Abolitionist or Abuse Apologist?

Tarika Powell
2 min readJan 26, 2023

My biggest lesson from the last few years is that a lot of abuse apologists call themselves abolitionists. In abolitionist circles, they find philosophical validation for the victim blaming they were going to engage in anyway.

Abuse apologists champion an abolitionist philosophy that is anti-punishment yet punishes survivors, that reintegrates offenders by talking past their victims. In some abolitionist circles, we are discouraged from even naming our abuse as abuse, which is a critical part of healing, because it would "dehumanize" the abuser to be called what they are. That’s not restorative or transformative; that’s obscene.

Survivors retain the right to name the act and the person who committed it without worrying that someone who’s never helped their survival finds the act of naming to be "carceral." On the contrary, it’s liberating.

The transformation we seek lies in centering survivors. You cannot restore what you do not understand, and no one understands an abuser better than someone they have abused. Yet many abolitionists never talk to or about survivors, unless it’s to condemn our anger as unacceptable, or to essentially blame our desire for justice for the very existence of carceral punishment.

When there’s compassion for the person who harmed and not for the person who was harmed, then you’re just an apologist. No amount of grandstanding abolitionist language, no amount of utopian claims about the benevolence of communities that abandon survivors all the time, will change that.

When you live in a culture of abuse, asserting that "community" is currently equipped to identify, intervene in, or adequately redress abuse is toxic positivity. Abusers use community against their victims all the time. We’ve seen again and again that abolitionist and restorative justice spaces not only fail to understand and re-educate about abuse so survivors are heard, but that they’re highly susceptible to the manipulations of the abuser.

I'm not interested in the utopia of silent, pliable survivors some of y'all envision in your ideal future. You envision people who will use the language you choose to describe their own experience, who'll agree to resolutions that come from conversations designed to manage their reactions rather than understand or listen to them.

I am not the survivor you envisioned.

--

--

Tarika Powell

Environmental policy expert living with PTSD. Writes about environmental policy, mental health, DE&I, and abuse culture. https://tarikapowell.com