Intersectionality in the courtroom: Observations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in Queensland’s Supreme Courts and District Courts

Marisela Velazquez

James Cook University

It has been well established that both Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women involved in crime generally meet criteria for low socioeconomic status (Bartels, 2010). A common explanation for women who are involved in crime, regardless of indigeneity, is socioeconomic status. However, differences in education, skill and income are rarely the only factors submitted for the court to consider in sentencing. Instead I argue that key domains which intersect during court processes from arraignment to sentence matters are constructs of femininity based on race and the different weight placed in the factors that are submitted to the court.

This paper details how socioeconomic status, race, and gender are layered and nuanced in the higher courts. I use observational research in courtrooms and apply intersectionality as a framework for the analysis of understanding how gender and race are affected by court practices in Queensland’s Supreme Courts and District Courts. In particular, I focus on how gender and race interact with class when mitigating and aggravating factors are submitted to the court. My findings suggest that white women are often viewed as victims of male oppression, whereas Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are treated paternalistically. These unfortunate circumstances in particular point to the courts ignoring and denying Indigenous women’s agency in different ways. A challenge for criminology is to consider these intersections more carefully and critically, while avoiding reductionism and single-issue research.

Key words: observation research, court observations, intersectionality, feminist criminology

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