Women prisoners’ sexual victimisation: ongoing vulnerabilities and possible responses

Lorana BARTELS, Patricia EASTEAL

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


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 women’s offending, are examined. Treatment responses to address these women’s 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 prisons’ ethos 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 victimisation” and “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 offenders’ layers of vulnerability. Originality/value: This paper highlights the relationship between women offenders’ sexual 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-216
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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