Many women in prison have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV). As this form of violence is often intergenerational and entrenched, women in prison are widely considered to be at particular risk of ongoing victimisation following release from custody. And yet, their support needs often go unrecognised, and it is likely that a range of barriers exists that prevent ex-prisoners from accessing services.
This project, jointly funded by ANROWS and Sparke Helmore Lawyers was conducted in partnership between James Cook University and the South Australian Department for Correctional Services. Led by Professor Andrew Day, this research develops an understanding of the factors that influence help-seeking by women in prison who may have concerns about their personal safety post-release and how this might inform service responses.
From this research, a three stage model of help-seeking and change for women in prison was developed. The model suggests that any individual who experiences IPV must:
- recognise and define the situation as abusive and intolerable (Stage 1);
- decide to disclose the abuse and seek help (Stage 2); and
- identify a source of support and where to seek help (Stage 3).
At the same time, the ability to seek help is influenced by a broad range of individual, interpersonal and socio-cultural factors including:
- the woman’s own history;
- the personal networks in which she interacts, and the history of these networks;
- connections between networks or systems;
- formal and informal social structures that influence the woman indirectly; and
- overarching institutional systems at the cultural or subcultural level (social/cultural norms and prejudices).
For policy-makers, practitioners and service providers, the research identifies:
- women in prison are a particularly vulnerable group who are likely to be at a high risk of ongoing victimisation;
- significant barriers exist that prevent women in prison from accessing IPV support services while in prison and post-release;
- current service models are unresponsive to the specific needs of women in prison and post-release;
- a specialised approach for women in prison is needed based on their particular social and individual circumstances;
- the development of culturally specific support services are required for women in prison who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander; and
- women with lived experience of incarceration should be part of the service framework in the community sector at all levels of program governance, design and delivery.