Designing Justice: Sexual Violence, Technology, and Citizen-Activism

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Shelby, Renee M.
McDonald, Mary G.
Singh, Jennifer
Randolph, Sherie
Pollock, Anne
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The institutionalization of technologies used to prevent, report, and prosecute sexual violence is signaling a shift in the dominant paradigm from legal to techno-legal responses to sexual violence. These new “anti-violence technologies,” raise urgent questions about how power and inequality are inscribed in law and technology. However, few studies have examined these objects, nor engaged activist voices to identify to what extent these technologies could be redesigned to meet survivors’ multiple justice needs. “Designing Justice” addresses this gap through a qualitative examination of how activists—particularly those on the social, political, and racialized margins—have designed, deployed, and institutionalized these objects since the 1970s. Each chapter discusses different prosecutorial movements through the legal system to analyze the cultural, political, and epistemological significance of “smart” rape-prevention products, rape reporting software, sexual assault exam kits (SAKs), and electronic monitors. Chapter 1 briefly traces the social and legal impacts of anti-violence technology across the moments of attack, reporting, investigation, and punishment. Chapter 2, “Sociotechnical Imaginary of Anti-Rape Technology,” analyzes data on rape-prevention products created between 1970 and 2019 by survivor-inventors. These inventors use advertising not only to sell rape-prevention products but also to narrate an imagined future in which sexual violence is eradicated. However, their imaginaries envision a simplistic understanding of violence that centers gender inequity at the expense of how race, class and sexuality mutually constitute experiences of violence and attempts at redress. Chapter 3, “Coding Intersectionality,” argues that allies can ‘design justice’ to better account for the multiple forms of oppression that structure survivors’ experiences and justice needs. In examining the reporting platforms of Callisto, Spot, and JDoe, I document how algorithms can be strategically designed to create inclusive cultures of accountability while also disrupting rape myths, and thus articulating “victim-centered” approaches to justice. Chapter 4, “Ordering Evidence and Responsibilizing Survivors,” examines the racial and sexual politics of SAKs as modes of survivor responsibilization, in which individual survivors are held accountable by the state to actively participate in redressing their own victimization by submitting to the forensic analysis offered through these kits. In Chapter 5, “Punishing Sexual Subjectivities,” I trace the development of electronic monitors focusing on how state legal actors comprise an “official public” that circulates gendered and racialized narratives of the sex offender figure just amidst the rise of the prison-industrial complex. I also document how the monitoring logics of social control are increasingly applied to youth caught in the “abuse to prison pipeline. Taken as a whole these chapters demonstrate that without attention to intersecting systems of power, social movement technologies produce multiple forms of contentious knowledge, including between citizen-activists and the state, and amongst differently situated citizen-activists. Additionally, anti-violence activists must be wary of what I call “criminal justice symbiosis”—whereby the emphasis on formal justice co-produces the knowledge cultures of law enforcement and “get tough on crime” policymakers.
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