Gender and risk: An empirical examination of the experiences of women held in long-term immigration detention in Australia

L. Rivas1*, M. Bull2

1 Griffith University
2 Griffith University

*corresponding author:

Previous research concerned with the experience of immigration detention focuses on the general immigration detention population, which mainly consists of men. This means that the experiences of men are treated as the norm, despite it being likely that women experience immigration detention differently. This study addresses this gap in research by focusing on the experiences of women detainees in long-term immigration detention in Australia. It examines the impact of long-term immigration detention on their mental health. This was achieved by conducting a descriptive quantitative analysis and a qualitative inductive thematic analysis of data contained in publically available reports released by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. This study provides empirical detail describing how the experiences of women held in long-term immigration detention are similar and different to those of the general immigration detention population. It found that many of these women experienced feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and a lack of self-determination, and indicated that whilst they were held in long-term immigration detention they also experienced a significantly higher prevalence of mental health issues, exposure to domestic violence, and other forms of violence than has been found in previous studies, and in the general population. Moreover, women in long-term mandatory detention who arrive in Australia without a male partner are held in closed detention settings for more than twice as long as those who are arrive and are detained with their husband. We conclude by considering how these differences can be understood through a gendered understanding of risk.


Lorena Rivas is a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University. Her doctoral thesis investigates the impact of long-term immigration detention on the overall well being of women detainees.


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