Telling life stories: Exploring the connection between trauma and incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women Key findings and future directions
This is an edited summary of key findings from ANROWS research Kungas’ trauma experiences and effects on behaviour in Central Australia.
The project provided an opportunity for Aboriginal women who were clients of the Kunga Stopping Violence Program (KSVP) in Alice Springs Correctional Centre to tell their stories of the life events that led to their incarceration.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are incarcerated at extremely high rates in Australia.
- While existing evidence can tell us how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are incarcerated, the life stories of those women remain under-explored and unheard.
- This research project sought to address these unheard stories. It engaged Aboriginal women in Alice Springs who had allegedly committed violent offences, and were or had been in prison (either on remand or serving sentences), to tell their stories, and explored the ways experiences of trauma contributed to offending and incarceration.
- The research revealed a cohort of women who are financially stressed and lacking stable and safe accommodation, dealing with addictions to alcohol or using other drugs, frequently negotiating family violence, and who have high physical and mental health needs.
- The women shared shared common experiences:
- barriers to addressing wellbeing and accessing housing and services
- communication disconnects, such as language barriers
- discrimination and structural issues within the law enforcement system
- fractured mother–child, family and community relationships.
- These factors not only contributed to offending, but also to the likelihood of incarceration.
- Almost all of the women had experienced violence by an intimate partner prior to entering prison. Further, post-release, the women face extra barriers and risks in abusive relationships due to a reluctance to seek help from authorities.
- Initiate early intervention for teenagers with culturally specific support to help young people through loss and grief, exposure to traumatic incidents, intimate partner violence, and use of social media and bullying.
- Urgently increase the supply of public housing in Central Australian communities and develop alternative women’s crisis accommodation models.
- Develop and fund culturally safe and relevant, trauma-informed family violence programs and services that work in coordination with other services in the social, health and legal services sectors.
- Increase police and judges’ understanding of the impact of trauma, allocate more time to communicating with and listening to Aboriginal women in the legal system, and develop trauma-specific alternatives to sentencing for Aboriginal women.
ANROWS Research to policy and practice papers are concise papers that summarise key findings of research on violence against women and their children, including research produced under ANROWS’s research program, and provide advice on the implications for policy and practice.
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2020). Telling life stories: Exploring the connection between trauma and incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (Research to Policy and Practice, 03/2020). Sydney, NSW: ANROWS.