Women prisoners’ sexual victimisation: ongoing vulnerabilities and possible responses

Published date19 September 2016
Date19 September 2016
AuthorLorana Bartels,Patricia Easteal
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
Women prisonerssexual
victimisation: ongoing vulnerabilities
and possible responses
Lorana Bartels and Patricia Easteal
Lorana Bartels is an Associate
Professor and the Head of the
School of Law and Justice,
University of Canberra,
Canberra, Australia.
Patricia Easteal is a Professor at
the School of Law and Justice,
University of Canberra,
Canberra, Australia.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the incidence and impact of exposure to sexual
victimisation for women in the criminal justice system. Key ongoing vulnerabilities in respect of mental health
and substance abuse, and their contribution to womens offending, are examined. Treatment responses to
address these womens trauma in custodial settings are then discussed. It is argued that a therapeutic
approach is required to provide a holistic response to victimised women offenders. Unfortunately, instead of
doing so, many prisonsethos and approaches may actually produce a further layer of vulnerability.
The paper concludes with commentary on future directions for research and practice.
Design/methodology/approach The researchers undertook a desk-based literature review, using search
terms such as women,corrections,sexual abuse and/or victimisationand trauma. The literature was
analysed through a feminist framework, adopting a vulnerability paradigm.
Findings The paper analyses the incidence and impact of sexual victimisation on women prisoners and
notes that comprehensive trauma-informed care in custodial settings is needed but highly problematic within
a prison context.
Research limitations/implications The researchers focused primarily on Australia, and the conclusions
may therefore be of more limited relevance to imprisoned women in other countries.
Practical implications The paper suggests good practice requirements for delivering trauma-informed
care to victimised women prisoners. Non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment are likely to be more
sensitive to many female offenderslayers of vulnerability.
Originality/value This paper highlights the relationship between women offenderssexual victimisation
histories, substance abuse, mental illness and offending behaviour, and demonstrates the need for and
challenges in delivering trauma-informed care. The originality derives from the examination of the three rules
of abuse (and prisons) and how they correlate with multiple vulnerabilities, which leads to the conclusion that
prison is not the best place for rehabilitation of most women.
Keywords Substance abuse, Mental illness, Women, Trauma, Prison, Sexual victimization
Paper type Literature review
From a feminist perspective, womens imprisonment experiences are commonly understood as
taking place within a male-dominated criminal justice system that fits within a gendered society
(Bartels and Gaffney, 2011; Moloney and Moller, 2009). In Australia, women accounted for
only 8 per cent of full-time prisoners in 2013-2014 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015a).
Furthermore, the masculinist framing of women and crime that underpins penal responses
means that womens pathways into offending are likely to be ignored or denied. Within this
paradigm, female prisoners are seen as a high-needs group requiring interventions framed
around these specific issues (Easteal et al., 2015).
Received 16 June 2015
Revised 13 September 2015
Accepted 14 September 2015
VOL. 2 NO. 3 2016, pp.206-216, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-06-2015-0020

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