Violence Against Women

Violence against women: A cause, a condition and a consequence of detention

Speech delivered by Jo Baker for DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture, and partners, Amman, Jordan, September 2015.

During the past two and half years, as part of my work with DIGNITY, I’ve visited and spoken with detained women and those who work with them in six countries.

My aim has been to understand the needs, risk and vulnerabilities that relate largely to their sex and their gender – that result from biological differences, social norms, and discrimination.

I’ve had the chance to explore and reflect – through our research and that of others – the role that Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) plays in the experiences of many women in priso, and to an extent, in their route to incarceration. Indeed, as the former Special Rapporteur on violence against women, has well identified – VAWG is often a critical cause, condition and consequence of women’s imprisonment.

My aim here today is to try and give a brief introduction to the scope, the forms and the causes of this violence, as experienced by women detained in the penal system.

Since we don’t have much time, I’ve included on the handout some definitions of VAWG in international law. I will just quickly add that this form of violence is recognised as a type of gender-based violence, which means that it is caused a) by the social expectations/norms associated with a gender and b) the unequal power relationships between genders, in a specific society. It is therefore largely a product of discrimination, and it disproportionately affects women compared to men.
How bad?
So let’s consider scope. Studies suggest that the proportion of women in prisons and pre-trial detention who have survived violence is very high - even higher than among women in the outside community (although under reporting makes this research particularly challenging). In countries around the world, 60, 70, even 90% of incarcerated women have experienced sexual or other forms of gender-based abuse in the past. You’ll find some examples on your handout.

If you consider the profiles of women in prison around the world, this becomes a little more understandable. Women are often from poor backgrounds, with little or no economic independence, low levels of education and primary caretaking responsibilities – which makes it more difficult for them to protect themselves or escape violence.

They are detained most commonly for economic crimes, drug or trafficking related crimes, prostitution, and for killing family members (most often, abusive family members).  These contexts – particularly sex work, organized crime, and abusive families – have strong links with VAWG.
Violence as a Cause…
Among commonly detained groups of women are those arrested for drug crimes, who operate at a minor level but who have coercive or violent partners who play a greater role in the trade.

They include the many women who have used force against their abusers in order to protect themselves or their children, once they decide that the law cannot/will not help them. In many of these cases, the fact of a woman’s long term abuse, notions of self-defence and fearing for her life, do not influence the court’s sentencing decisions.

As of course you know, in Jordan women are detained as a result of experiencing violent and so-called honour crimes – their voices are in the report. And in many countries women have been imprisoned for violating discriminatory laws which particularly affect female survivors of violence. Among these are victims of honour crimes, administratively detained for their own protection; victims of rape; and those who are imprisoned for the crime of running away from home.

So you can see how VAWG operates as a pathway to prison.

Consider how differently these women may be impacted by prison life. Consider a young woman who has been raped, or survived horrific violence from her family members. What physical healthcare might she need in the following days months years? What reproductive and sexual healthcare, or other forms? What psychological care and counselling, in response to post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression? How might she respond to isolation, or to aggressive/invasive search procedures, to so-called virginity testing, shackling, or to being imprisoned in a facility with male guards or inmates? How might she cope, away from children and family?
… A Condition…
Once in detention, women prisoners are particularly vulnerable to gendered forms of abuse, particularly those places that breach international standards by mixing male and female inmates, and allowing male supervision of female inmates.

In these situations, sexual exploitation and abuse – including rape, trading sexual favours for provisions and privileges, so-called virginity testing, and sexual assault during body searches – may take place.

Research has indicated that people with histories of sexual abuse are more vulnerable to being exploited and victimized again. This is a particular problem in a detention environment, where they may face retraumatization, and have few ways to seek protection.

Speech delivered by Jo Baker for DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture, and partners, Amman, Jordan, September 2015.

During the past two and half years, as part of my work with DIGNITY, I’ve visited and spoken with detained women and those who work with them in six countries.

My aim has been to understand the needs, risk and vulnerabilities that relate largely to their sex and their gender – that result from biological differences, social norms, and discrimination.

I’ve had the chance to explore and reflect – through our research and that of others – the role that Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) plays in the experiences of many women in priso, and to an extent, in their route to incarceration. Indeed, as the former Special Rapporteur on violence against women, has well identified – VAWG is often a critical cause, condition and consequence of women’s imprisonment.

My aim here today is to try and give a brief introduction to the scope, the forms…

Continue Reading Share