by Erica C. Barnett 


Past week, a 35-year-previous person who experienced been released from jail fewer than one particular week previously attacked a county personnel in a women’s restroom at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. The assailant, a Stage 1 sex offender with a background of attacking gals, instructed detectives he experienced smoked “homemade meth” quickly before the assault. A police report submitted after the incident signifies the attacker, who is a individual going through homelessness, may possibly endure from mental illness.

The particulars of this circumstance may well guide a realistic person to conclude that people who commit sexual intercourse offenses need to have closer monitoring when they are produced from custody, along with accessibility to housing and mental overall health treatment to avert them from reoffending at the time they are released.

Alternatively, the assault grew to become a symbol for conservative officials, who recommended “solutions” that provided sweeping dozens of homeless individuals from a nearby encampment and directing women of all ages to transform the way they behave in community. 

Crime is often used as a cause (or justification) for eliminating folks from public spaces, irrespective of no matter whether the perpetrator lived in an encampment or irrespective of whether a sweep would make other people residing there fewer protected. Previous thirty day period, for illustration, the Town eliminated an encampment in the vicinity of Ravenna Park after a male who did not stay there shot and killed an encampment resident, citing “public safety” as the rationale for the sweep. 

In a concept that went out to all courthouse staff members, the County prompt that workforce who might be vulnerable to sexual assault could steer clear of remaining attacked by pursuing a checklist of “tips … to increase your own basic safety and stay away from likely trouble” whilst downtown.

The “personal safety suggestions” will be familiar to several women of all ages, who are frequently explained to that we ought to limit our movements and keep on being hypervigilant in order to stop our have sexual assault: Go away all individual belongings guiding when you go away your auto, or “if you must carry a purse,” hug it close to your torso dress in flat footwear and loose garments that will make it possible for you to run really do not walk outdoors and take a protection escort if it is dim out use underground tunnels to totally “avoid floor streets” downtown huddle close to buildings although ready for crossing signals so no 1 can sneak up from powering really don’t use headphones or glance at your cell phone and stay away from “shortcuts,” which include “parks, parking tons, garages and alleyways.”

I really don’t keep in mind the initially time I was informed to never ever stroll to my car or truck by itself, to keep residence at night, to continue to keep my back versus the wall, or to hold a important lodged firmly amongst my center and index fingers in case I required to stab an assailant in the eye. I just know that I internalized the lesson that I can prevent my individual sexual assault, and its corollary: If I’m assaulted, it’s simply because I did some thing “wrong.” I wore my purse on my shoulder, as a substitute of clutching it to my upper body with both of those arms. I listened to songs instead of my surroundings. I did not determine each prospective exit route. My female physique was the issue, and I failed to observe all the constraints imposed on its movements.

It’s a comforting notion, in particular if you are a policy maker who wishes to shift blame from methods to folks. If we can make women of all ages “safe” from assault by convincing them to transfer by way of the environment in a sure way, there’s no need to have to handle the bigger concern of why some gentlemen experience entitled to women’s bodies or why the punishment for sexual offenses is, way too usually, incarcerating guys and releasing them with no assistance procedure in place to reduce them from offending again. Alongside related strains, if we can identify the problem as “homeless people” rather than “homelessness,” the resolution gets a lot less complicated: Make the persons go someplace else. Challenge solved.

These narratives may perhaps feel various — blaming individual women of all ages for failing to secure on their own and blaming homeless people today in general for the steps of one homeless human being — but they’re undertaking the identical get the job done. By shifting blame onto personal actions in the first occasion and on to a group of individuals in the 2nd, both equally narratives propose that men and women, instead than programs, are at fault. Ladies, not boys who mature up believing that women’s bodies are house. Homeless people, not an economic and political process that leaves millions with no safety internet. “Criminals,” fairly than a criminal justice method that fails to rehabilitate.

Individuals are, in principle, much less difficult to fix. End searching at your cellular phone. Never stroll on your own. Stop medications and get a job. Quit “choosing” to live outside. Telling females to are living in terror is simpler than training men not to be rapists or addressing rape tradition. Telling homeless folks to stop present in community is less complicated than providing absolutely everyone a household.

And there are other systemic troubles at get the job done here far too. Though a lot of aspects about the alleged assailant’s lifetime are unknown, we do know that he was introduced from King County Jail straight into, as an alternative of housing or supportive companies, homelessness — a scenario virtually created to guarantee he would reoffend. Now he’s headed for jail once more. Has justice been served? Are we “safe?”

The trouble with the courthouse assault is not the courthouse — a area bristling with armed officers, exactly where any female subsequent the “tips” laid out by King County need to have anticipated to be secure. Nor is it the homeless encampment future doorway, where — in accordance to outreach staff on web site at the encampment each day — the assailant did not are living. Nonetheless, the methods proposed by elected leaders and judges emphasis on both of those. King County Superior Courtroom Presiding Judge Jim Rogers has demanded that the Metropolis sweep the park, and Reagan Dunn, a Republican King County councilmember, desires to lock down the courthouse so only persons with formal organization can enter. The irony of shutting down a developing whose ostensible goal is justice and rehabilitation appears to be shed on quite a few who inhabit it.


Erica C. Barnett is a feminist, an urbanist, and an obsessive observer of politics, transportation, and the quotidian internal workings of City Hall.

📸 Featured Image: The King County Courthouse. Picture attributed to Evan Didier below a Resourceful Commons 2. license.

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