Addressing women's victimisation histories in custodial settings

Addressing women's victimisation histories in custodial settings

Mary Stathopoulos, Antonia Quadara, Bianca Fileborn and Haley Clark

ACSSA Issues No. 13 — December 2012
Addressing women's victimisation histories in custodial settings

In the last 20 years the numbers of women entering Australian prisons have risen dramatically. Many of these women have a history of sexual assault traumatisation from child sexual abuse as well as physical and sexual abuse they have encountered as adults. The prison system can often exacerbate trauma for female criminal offenders with a trauma history. This paper explores the prison as a possible site of re-traumatisation. The reasoning behind this is that prisons are built on an ethos of power, surveillance and control, yet trauma sufferers require safety in order to begin healing. A trauma-informed approach may offer an alternative to delivering a less traumatic prison environment and experience for female criminal offenders with a history of sexual abuse and assault.

Key messages

Women enter prison with less serious criminal careers than men.

Women in prison have high rates of sexual abuse victimisation histories.

Women enter prison extremely disadvantaged, particularly in relation to mental health, re-victimisation, socio-economic status, substance abuse, being primary carers for dependent children and educational attainment. Many of these outcomes are the consequences associated with past histories of abuse/assault.

Penal environments are designed and built with an ethos of power and control and are often re-traumatising for female offenders with a sexual abuse victimisation history.

The key principles of trauma and gender may be utilised to create frameworks that can be applied in penal environments to address women's complex needs arising from a history of sexual victimisation.

Further research is required to test how the implementation of the key frameworks of trauma-informed care and practice, and gender-responsive frameworks would occur.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Mary Stathopoulos is a Senior Research Officer with ACSSA, Antonia Quadara is the Coordinator of ACSSA, and Bianca Fileborn is Research Officer with ACSSA. At the time of writing, Haley Clark was a Senior Research Officer with ACSSA.


The author would like to thank external reviewers for their time, expertise and feedback. Thank you also to AIFS staff, particularly Elly Robinson, Antonia Quadara and Daryl Higgins, for their guidance and feedback throughout the production of this publication.

This Issues paper draws from work commissioned by Corrective Services NSW. We would like to thank Corrective Services NSW for their generosity in allowing us to use the work for this Issue paper.

Publication details

ACSSA Issues
No. 13
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2012.
20 pp.
ISSN: 
1833-7864
ISBN: 
978-1-922038-14-2
Suggested citation:

Stathopoulos, M., with Quadara, A., Fileborn, B., & Clark, H. (2012). Addressing women's victimisation histories in custodial settings (ACSSA Issues No. 13). Melbourne: Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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