Aboriginal women jailed for defending themselves

By Harry C. Goodall Jr.

In Western Australia, Aboriginal women are being incarcerated at a high rate for responding with violence to unreported domestic abuse at home, according to “Violence in the Lives of Incarcerated Aboriginal Mothers in Western Australia,” a study by Mandy Wilson, et al., according to Sage Journal.

In 2016, 51 percent of incarcerated Aboriginal women were in prison for violent offenses, compared to 33 percent of non-Aboriginal women. Statistics suggest the arrests for non-Aboriginal women were mainly for minor illicit drug offenses.

The study of the Western Australia prison population showed women comprise a small segment of the total prison population, 8 percent in 2016, but between 2004 and 2014 female incarceration increased by 35 percent. This makes women the fastest-growing group in Australia’s prison system.

Aboriginal women were hesitant to report crimes against them because of distrust and alienation from the mainstream systems. This contributed to the women fighting back and putting themselves at risk for incarceration, the reporter noted. 

“I tried to report it, but they (the police) think that I’m not all there,” said Margaret, an incarcerated woman from the study. “Every time I report to the police, they’re saying I’m the one that’s causing trouble because I keep in and out of jail. But, I told them the reason why I’m keeping in and out of jail (is) because I’m always abused and getting bashed for no reason.

“When it comes to me, when I do something (to him), they’re at my doorstep,” Margaret said.

Some of the women were afraid to call the police because they feared having their kids taken away. The study reported most of the women arrested had a history of abuse from their mates.

“Abused women who may have been arrested for offending violently, or who received little assistance when seeking police help for their partner’s or another’s violence on prior occasions, may feel reluctant to involve police in the future,” the Sage article states, citing M. Dichter, author of “Women and Criminal Justice.”

To empower Aboriginal women now and in the future, many underlying factors must be addressed, the report noted. Those factors include poverty, social exclusion, racism and intergenerational trauma experienced by the women.

“Victims of violence also need access to well-resourced alternative avenues of support such as refuges and Aboriginal family violence support, mediation and legal services in order that victims do not become perpetrators,” the article concludes.

The majority of Aboriginal people dislikes violence and promotes a culture of non-violence in their communities, the article says. They just need to be empowered to figure out how to end violence when it occurs in their communities. 

The study relies on data collected from a sample of 54 incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers in Western Australia.

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