Carceral Feminism names advocacy of "criminalization and incarceration for gender violence." Source: Angela K. Davis. 2016. Freedom is a Constant Struggle. Chicago: Haymarket Books. p. 138

“Carceral Feminism” is the blending of sex, gender, and carceral politics, that is, feminist social justice work achieved via the threat of incarceration. The term was coined in the 2007 article “The Sexual Politics of ‘New Abolitionism’” by Elizabeth Bernstein to describe “the commitment of abolitionist feminist activists to a law and order agenda” ("Sexual Politics" 143), with “abolitionist” referring to anti-trafficking efforts by evangelicals and secular feminist activists whose discourse compares modern day “sexual slavery” to the transatlantic slave trade. Bernstein primarily discusses carceral feminism as it relates to anti-trafficking campaigns and discourse, which often treat “social justice as criminal justice, and of punitive systems of control as the best motivational deterrents for men’s bad behavior” ("Militarized Humanitarianism" 58). Much of the global conversation on anti-trafficking efforts revolves around criminalizing and decriminalizing aspects of sex work in order to best curtail the sex trafficking industry, rather than address the social and economic factors that put women and children at risk of becoming victims of trafficking. This pulls focus away from the neoliberal institutions (such as big businesses and the police themselves), and “the responsibility for slavery is shifted from structural factors and dominant institutions onto individual, deviant men” ("Sexual Politics" 144). Feminists have joined forces with evangelical activists and law makers in order to push punitive approaches to humanitarian causes, under the guise of working towards gender equality and protecting family values.


  • Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2007. "The Sexual Politics of 'New Abolitionism.'" differences, 18(3): 128-151.
  • Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2010. " Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns." Signs, 36(1): 45-72.

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