“I’ll get you before you get me”: How people in prison understand the relationship between experiences of trauma and offending

Ms Marianne Bevan1
1New Zealand Department Of Corrections , Wellington, New Zealand

Over three-quarters of people within New Zealand prisons have experienced violent victimisation in their lifetime, with over half of men and three-quarters of women having experienced sexual and/or family violence specifically. Interest has grown in recent years about the impact trauma has on people’s offending pathways, and the implications of this for how people are managed and rehabilitated in prison. While existing research has generally not demonstrated a causal link between trauma exposure and offending, studies have shown how exposure to traumatic events causes a range of maladaptive coping strategies which are, in turn, associated with committing crime. This paper adds to current research in this area by exploring the different ways people in prison in New Zealand understand the relationship between their experiences of trauma and their perpetration of crime. It draws on a range of qualitative studies (involving interviews with over 100 women and men in prison) on the topics of women’s offending, family violence perpetration, and case management in women’s prisons. The paper examines the ways in which people’s experiences of victimisation shape how they understand and narrate their victimisation of others, including their understandings of violence, and perceptions of their identity, responsibility and agency. The paper discusses the implications of this for the management and treatment of people in prison.


Marianne Bevan is a Senior Research Adviser at Department of Corrections in New Zealand. She has completed a range of research and evaluation projects related to women’s offending, the case management of women in prison, family violence perpetration, prisoners’ trauma exposure, and youth in prison. Prior to joining the Department of Corrections, she conducted research, and implemented projects on gender and security sector reform in Timor-Leste, Togo, Ghana, and Liberia.


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