“Violence against women –once treated as fodder by comedians and regularly ignored by police– is now taken seriously” –Nancy MacLean, The American Women’s Movement, 1945-2000

Taken seriously by whom?  Not by the police officers I confronted this Friday at 2:00 A.M. after watching one man beat a woman with his belt, then loop the belt around her neck saying, “I need to keep my women in check” while another man (his friend?) took pictures.  I ran less than a block from the Ackland Store to the Subway entrance, where a bunch of cops were loitering and creating a hostile environment for several law-abiding people of the Chapel Hill area.

“Hey cops!  Did you see that shit?”

A blonde cop responded that he had seen the man beating a woman with his belt, but because the woman appeared to be giggling, he thought she consented to being beaten in public.  “I can’t impinge upon your rights,” he said.

Whose rights can’t he violate?  My right to feel safe when I walk at night?  A man’s right to beat a woman in the street?  Even if you support a person’s right to engage in consensual BDSM, the people involved were visibly drunk.  According to North Carolina law, that would invalidate any extremely dubious consent the officer claimed to have perceived.

I personally felt unsafe confronting the two men on my own.  If the police are unwilling to address sexual harassment and violence even in the most public spaces, we need to create working alternatives in order to address violence and support survivors.  This isn’t a new issue.

More training for cops may help, but heavier policing will not.  If a woman can be beaten by a man in front of a group of six cops, a stronger police presence is not the answer to our problem.

To the extent that we actually have a Carolina Family, or a campus community, we have a responsibility to explore our options for holding perpetrators of violence accountable without the intervention of law enforcement.  Addressing violence is never simple, but doesn’t have to involve police officers working on behalf of violent state authority.  By developing our own tools to address interpersonal violence, including a constant effort to hold ourselves and our loved ones accountable for their actions, we better ensure survivors’ safety and recognize the humanity in the people who perpetrate interpersonal violence.

The Task Force to Review Student on Student Complaints of Harassment needs input from students on how to address violence between students on and off campus.  As a member of the Task Force, I would like to open a space for addressing hostile environments that allows survivors the greatest number of options, and doesn’t subject survivors to further trauma.  Please submit an anonymous suggestion at the Campus Conversation website.  If you would be more comfortable meeting in person (and processing your feelings verbally), e-mail skbryan1@live.unc.edu or contact another member of the Task Force.


For more information about what transformative justice may look like, this page has links to good reads: http://www.phillystandsup.com/contact_links.html

Sarah-Kathryn Bryan