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July 11, 2024

Domestic Abuse & Women in Prison

In this blog, I want to shine a light on a subject that is very important to me. Domestic Abuse and women in prison. As part of my role at the National Centre for Domestic Violence, I manage the Prison Partnership. There are 13 women’s prison’s in the England and to date NCDV work in partnership with 8 of them. Together with my colleague and good friend, Kirsty, who is the Head of Family Law at NCDV’s sister company, National Legal Service, we aim to support women in prison to be able to get protective court injunctions so that when they are released from prison, they are protected from their abuser.

To give some background, 57% of women in prison report having experienced domestic abuse, but the actual number is likely to be much more than this. Often, the crimes which have led to them being in prison are as a result of the domestic abuse or associated with it. Women become trapped in a vicious cycle of criminal activity and victimisation. Their circumstances are often made worse by poor mental health, substance misuse or poverty. Leaving an abusive relationship is very risky and potentially life threatening, and we know that the point in which a woman is planning to escape or actually leaving is the most dangerous time for her and it is at this time that many women are killed by their abusers.

One may think that one of the few benefits of being sent to prison for some women is that they will be able to escape their abuser.  In fact, many women prisoners continue to be at risk of coercive control and/or physical danger from those that they cannot avoid on release.  Yet, historically, the courts will assume that because a woman is in prison, she is not at risk.  This just isn’t the case. When women in prison apply for non-molestation orders from within prison, the court will deem them to be low risk, because they are in prison and separated from the abuser and therefore do not grant the protection orders.

There is a world of difference between someone leaving an abusive relationship and perhaps going into refuge or protecting themselves with protective orders ‘outside’ prison, and a woman who has been incarcerated in prison. She hasn’t necessarily separated from the abuser. There has merely been barriers put between the abuser and the victim.

We know from our work with the prisons that a large percentage of women in prison are gate met by their abusers when they are released and this is how the vicious cycle of criminal activity and revictimization happens. I know of women who are ‘controlled’ every bit as much inside prison, as they are when they are not in prison, if not more. For these women, prison IS their refuge! Whilst they are in prison, they are safe. Is it any wonder that they commit more crime once released?

Another problem for these women is that there are very few people who will look beyond the crimes that they have committed. They will judge these women, solely because they are, or have been in prison and I believe that is wrong. These women tell us they feel unheard. They feel they have not got a voice. What chance do they have?

Of course, if someone commits a crime, then they need to be held accountable and punished for the offence they have committed. My point is – Domestic Abuse and Violence is WRONG and can happen to anyone. It does not matter whether you are a wealthy upstanding citizen and pillar of the community or in prison, everyone should be listened to and treated fairly.

  • I first met Sharon back in 2000 when I went into a refuge she worked in after fleeing a violent relationship. I had two babies and virtually just a bag of clothes and a few toys with us. She helped me with appointments with the police, solicitors and..

    A survivor of domestic abuse.
  • I was fortunate enough to meet and work with Sharon when she was the Advocacy Manager at Woman’s Trust and I was working for Westminster City Council. During this time Sharon developed and managed the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service..

    Ainslie O’Connor – Principal Advisor for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet – Adelaide, Australia.
  • Thank you so much for all the support you have given me. You really have been amazing, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with Child Protection without you. The amount of strength you have given me is totally priceless, even with..

    A survivor of domestic abuse.
  • I knew Sharon as a work colleague over ten years ago. At the time, she was supporting vulnerable people, some of them were homeless due to domestic abuse and substance misuse. For me, assisting such people was what anyone in her role would be expect..

    Ted Chanza, Head of Market Operations, Airtel Malawi Ltd, Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa.
  • I have known Sharon for 6 years and have had the pleasure of working alongside her when I chaired the Westminster MARAC. Sharon is a committed, empathetic supporter of women who are or have experienced domestic abuse. She regularly goes the extra m..

    Former Chair of The Westminster MARAC.
  • I was fortunate to have had Sharon as my support worker after 17 years of domestic violence and 4 children that had witnessed and gone through it with me. I was finally strong enough to stand up and protect myself and my children. Without Sharon’s ..

    A survivor of domestic violence.
  • Without the support and constant reassurance of Sharon, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am forever grateful to her. She is extremely dedicated and knowledgeable, having her on my side when dealing with someone as persistent..

    Anonymous survivor of Domestic Abuse.
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