Sexual assault and calling the police

Johnny asks:

In our present system what should an anarchist do if (possible worse case) she/he is raped or a loved one is raped. Is it right to call the police? I’m baffled with scenarios like this. 


When a violent crime is committed against you or someone you know, and you’re an anarchist, the question of calling the police is never a simple answer.

If your loved one was sexually assaulted and does not want you to call the police, you shouldn’t. Ultimately, they are the person affected and what they want to have happen should be honored by their family, friends, and community.

Should they call the police? Can they? Sexual and personal violence is an unfortunate and devastating truth in all communities. Often in anarchist spaces the police are not called. We generally do not believe that state sanctioned justice is true justice, nor is it the first option we should consider.

Most people who rape know the person they are assaulting and so they are often part of the same community. Different communities/individuals have tried various responses:

  • They have asked the perpetrator to leave the community (ostracized)
  • They have retaliated with self determined retributive violence (though it can be argued that while this may feel cathartic in the moment, it may not truly be justice)
  • They have asked the perpetrator to seek support in counseling, therapy, and other restorative measures,
  • They have established accountability systems so that both the assailant and the assaulted can heal safely.

These are different responses that do not involve the police, are plausible, and point toward a future where we can use our own power to solve problems in society/communities.

It is difficult to know how to act when the only legitimized “justice” is carried out by the state. Calling the police should be a last resort after you’ve considered your own power and your community’s power in the situation and have realistically exhausted them. Even if our power has not been exhausted, there are times when our current society prevents or makes it dangerous for us to exercise it.

Though the above outlines different responses to sexual violence, I think the question is relevant to all types of personal violence and this becomes even more difficult to answer when a life is taken or a child is harmed. We may seek justice/restoration/correction but we are also limited in how we can act/make decisions in our current society. Because we don’t live in an ideal anarchist world, we will occasionally have to compromise in order to maintain/create safe communities. This will sometimes mean calling the police. You’re not betraying your ideals/principles if that is the decision you have to make.

We have to consider our goals when seeking justice and how the choices we make contribute to our long term goals. Police are a part of the system that made it impossible for you and your community to seek true justice and create a solution through your own power, so we don’t have to be thankful for the police or happy that they are there. But in the meantime, we should think critically about alternatives to our current “justice” system and take full advantage of our own power as sentient and capable beings.

I recommend the following resources for anyone interested in learning more in depth how to confront intimate violence in their communities:

  1. The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities
  2. The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities
  3. Generation 5s (G5) Toward Transformative Justice: A Liberatory Approach to Child Sexual Abuse and other forms of Intimate and Community Violence. A Call to Action for the Left and the Sexual and Domestic Violence Sectors
  4. The Community Accountability website for more resources about community accountability and toolkits.

Tags: ,