This past weekend, Team #MediaJustice joined over 200 survivors, organizers, and advocates to participate in the Defending Survivors: Liberating Futures convening, hosted by Survived and Punished, to end the criminalization of gender-based violence survivors.

For many survivors, domestic violence, rape, and other forms of gendered violence are entangled with systems of incarceration, police violence, and deportation. In particular, Black women, women of color, and queer, trans and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately criminalized for surviving abuse. Multiple studies indicate that between 71% and 95% of people in women’s prisons have experienced violence prior to incarceration.

Survived and Punished organizers; Photo credit: Red Schulte

At the convening, criminalized survivors highlighted the importance of organizing across walls, storytelling, and breaking isolation. As Stacy Rojas with California Coalition of Women Prisoners reminded us, “There is always resisting happening inside prisons.” Partnerships between organizers on the inside and outside are critical to freeing more people from prisons and detention. As Ny Nourn with Survived and Punished shared, campaigns to free criminalized survivors not only explain why survivors are criminalized, but also create space to talk about systemic oppression like racism, poverty, and sexism that leaves survivors vulnerable to criminalization and violence in the first place.

Media justice has been critical in freeing those who are punished for surviving violence. Digital organizing allows us to break the isolation criminalized survivors experience by serving as a mechanism to share supportive messages and letters. Storytelling via digital platforms has also been a powerful way for survivors to tell their own stories of criminalization and survival, and to highlight that these are intended consequences of the racist, sexist criminal legal system.

Artwork by Maria HW

Like so many other Black women who dared to defend themselves—including Marissa Alexander, CeCe McDonald, Alisha Walker, and Cherelle Baldwin—Liyah Birru is a Black immigrant survivor from Ethiopia who is currently facing deportation after being criminalized for self-defense. Unfortunately, Liyah’s story is not unique: Black women are disproportionately criminalized for survival, and Black immigrants face deportation for criminal convictions at a rate three times higher than other immigrants. However, as always, as a community, we continue to keep one another safe and remain committed to building pathways to freedom for criminalized survivors like Liyah. In this latest fight, we are once again leveraging the power of digital tools to secure her freedom. Join us and sign the #FreeLiyah petition today: 

On International Women’s Day, join Survived and Punished in taking action to #FreeLiyah:

  1. Sign the petition to urge California Governor Newsom to pardon Liyah and stop her deportation
  2. Are you part of an organization? Join Survived and Punished and MediaJustice Network member, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI),  in endorsing the #FreeLiyah campaign.

Together, we can #FreeThemAll!


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