Aboriginal mothers in WA jails discuss domestic violence in lives, as study finds 'culture of fighting'

Aboriginal mothers in WA jails discuss domestic violence in lives, as study finds 'culture of fighting'

Aboriginal mothers in WA jails discuss domestic violence in lives, as study finds 'culture of fighting'

Updated 16 February 2017, 2:35 AEDT

A study involving Aboriginal mothers locked up in Western Australia highlights the impact of domestic violence on their lives — with almost 90 per cent saying they suffered abuse, often intergenerational, and many saying they were reluctant to report it.

"There was no way I was going to stand back and let a man flog me, so I gave just as much as he tried to give."

Those were the words of Leonie, the pseudonym for one of 84 Aboriginal mothers in West Australian jails who were interviewed for a new report on the role of intergenerational violence in their lives.

Almost 90 per cent of the women reported experiencing violence in relationships with their partners and families, and 54 admitted using violence against others.

But they said they would often not report family violence to the authorities for fear the Department of Child Protection (DCP) would remove their children.

The article, called Violence in the Lives of Incarcerated Aboriginal Mothers in Western Australia and published in SAGE Open, was a collaboration between WA and NSW researchers.

It found the women mainly used violence in response to attacks against them, but also more broadly as part of a "culture of fighting" where violence had become "normalised" in their lives.

Inmate Anna experienced physical and sexual abuse as a child and witnessed her father beating her mother.

"You know when you're trying to get away from people hurting you and you run into somebody that will hurt you more," she said.

Primary researchers Jocelyn Jones and Mandy Wilson, from Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute, spoke with women from Bandyup Women's Prison, Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women and three regional jails.

They were told stories of families and community members sometimes watching on and doing nothing as the women were beaten by their partners.

'Failure' of police, community prevents disclosure

Researchers heard of a hesitance by the women to disclose the violence they experienced, because in some instances there "was a reluctance and/or failure by service providers, police and community and family members to appropriately assist".

The women also spoke about deliberately concealing domestic violence from police out of concern the DCP would become involved.

"The happiest feeling in the world is having a baby. The worst is having it taken away," Louise said.

"I didn't want to ring the police or DCP would be involved. So I just took the hidings," Claudine said.

The study found many women "believed violence in relationships was 'normal'", and they would not report attacks because of a fear of paybacks.

"Instead, many women were fighting back, putting themselves at increased risk of harm, including injury and incarceration," the study said.

The decision to take matters into their own hands was often what put them on the wrong side of the law, the research found.

"He stalks me and rapes me, and I've had to do the time," said Louise, who stabbed and injured her attacker.

Early intervention needed: researchers

Ms Jones said the result for many women was intergenerational trauma, violence and incarceration.

"The young girls were talking about how their mothers were lining up fights for them when they get out of prison. So there is that real culture of fighting," she said.

"It's still perpetuating from one generation to another. So some intervention is needed as early as possible."

Dr Wilson said the absence of an intensive violence prevention program for women in WA prisons meant women in the study were being denied parole.

"They are staying in prison longer, in which case they're away from their family and their children for a longer time, at a cost to the taxpayer," she said.

The researchers have developed a program to look at all aspects of violence in the women's lives and their communities, with follow ups when they were released.

The Department of Corrective Services (DCS) is currently considering the proposal.

The researchers want it to be matched by enhanced education and violence prevention programs in communities, as well as cultural training of police.

Aboriginal Family Law Services chair Hannah McGlade said there needed to be "an appreciation and understanding and commitment to addressing the past history of trauma, which has been widespread".