Why are our prisons full of domestic violence victims?

The number of women in prison is continuing to soar, new data shows. But advocates warn we can’t arrest the increase until we start properly addressing domestic abuse, which affects an overwhelming majority of women behind bars.

One emerging but “alarming” phenomenon leading to women’s criminalisation, lawyers and advocates say, is the growing number of domestic violence victims being misidentified by police as primary aggressors — and named as respondents on family violence intervention orders.
Disturbingly, she said, a growing number of perpetrators are attempting to “game the system” and will, for instance, apply for intervention orders during family law proceedings out of spite or to gain an advantage.

“What we’re hearing … is the really sophisticated and creative ways in which abusive men are manipulating the [family violence] system … research we’ve conducted recently suggests that abusers are feeling like there is a system that’s persecuting them, that they will then use to persecute their victim.”

The costs are borne by entire families: Imprisoning mothers can have devastating consequences for their children and perpetuate intergenerational offending and cycles of incarceration. This disproportionately impacts Indigenous women in prison, of whom some 80 per cent are mothers.

“We hear frequently that women who sought police intervention to keep them safe were instead arrested, so of course that’s going to deter them from seeking help and makes them even more vulnerable [to abuse].”

[category Aust, domestic violence]

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