The #MeToo movement has captured many people’s attention and sparked conversations about the important issues of stopping sexual harassment and equalizing pay for women. But there are huge sectors of women in our society who lack the #MeToo movement’s power and resources to fight back. Some of these women are shut out of the work place, relegated to the criminal justice or immigrant detention systems.
First, consider how our society treats girls, particularly girls of color, stacking the deck against them from the start. Girls of color—especially black girls—are subject to harsher and more frequent discipline in school than their white peers and are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls. This disparity in punishment between black girls and white girls is twice the unconscionable disparity between black and white boys. Black girls are almost 4 times as likely to get arrested at school, as compared with white girls. And elementary school Latinas are 2.7 times more likely to be arrested than young white girls. Additionally, irrespective of race, one in four girls experience some form of sexual violence by the age of 18. Such abuse is one of the primary predictors for girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system.
Once in the criminal justice system, girls and women face reprehensible treatment. Women are by far the fastest growing population in our prison system. The rate of incarceration for women has been steadily growing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985, despite the fact that only 18% of women are in prison for violent conduct. Women of color are vastly over-represented in these numbers. In prison, women have to fight for their most basic dignity and rights. In some facilities, they are denied feminine hygiene products unless they can pay an exorbitant price from measly prison salaries. Guards in women’s prisons are predominantly male, and in most cases are allowed to watch the women when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet. Women prisoners face everything from groping during body searches and frisks to correctional officers sometimes raping the women. Numerous facilities shackle women during child birth, and medical care for women prisoners is abysmal. Even the innocence movement is underserving women. Women make up about 11% of the people convicted of violent crimes, but just 6% of those exonerated of violent crimes.
And our country’s treatment of immigrant women is no better than its treatment of incarcerated women. There has been an influx of women and children from Central America seeking asylum in this country in recent years. But at an alarmingly rising rate, our government is detaining them in prison-like facilities instead of allowing them to live in the community while making their plea for asylum. An October 2017 study by the Women’s Refugee Commission found that the percentage of women in immigration custody has increased by 60% in the past eight years. Immigrant advocates have recently found a 35% increase in the number of pregnant women being detained by immigration authorities and also an increase in the length of time those pregnant women are forced to spend in detention. As is typical for those who are imprisoned by our governments, medical care in these facilities is woefully inadequate.
The #MeToo movement has brought down some powerful men, but so far, it has mostly given a voice to privileged white women. The fight for women’s rights must not exclude women of color, poor women, women in the criminal justice system, or immigrant women. Our country was literally founded on laws that permitted the rape and subjugation of black women. Post-slavery, Jim Crow institutionalized the continued inequitable treatment of women of color. When Anita Hill memorably spoke out about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ sexual harassment, there was no #MeToo sisterhood rallying to her side. That only happened when powerful white women raised the alarm. The fight for women’s rights must not leave behind the sisters facing the most oppression.