Australian Immigration Detention: Social Issues Experienced by Women Detainees

Ms Lorena Rivas1

1Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

The impact of immigration detention on those held in these facilities is of increasing concern to human rights advocates and policy makers (McLoughlin & Warin, 2008). Much of the current literature details the prevalence of a range of issues that male detainees experience, however little is known about how women experience immigration detention and the impact of detention on their social wellbeing. Part of this gap is due to the reduction of women’s experiences into categories such as ‘carer’ or ‘mother’. However, women are likely to experience unique challenges in immigration detention beyond such identity categories. This study aims to elucidate how women uniquely experience immigration detention in Australia (Rivas & Bull, 2018). The study examines the impact of immigration detention on women’s social well-being by combining both quantitative and qualitative data derived from Commonwealth Ombudsman reports on those in long-term immigration detention. These data were supplemented by interviews with women about their experience of immigration detention and service providers who had worked with women in this situation. This study explores both the role of personal characteristics and the experience of detention (experiential factors), and their differential impact on the social wellbeing of these women. Results showed that women experienced a range of social issues including relationship issues, social withdrawal, isolation, and discrimination. The most prevalent social issue reported was intimate partner violence (IPV), with 35.7% of women detained with a partner having experienced IPV in detention. Interestingly, women who reported abuse or assault by family members or were detained in community detention were significantly more likely to also be victims of IPV than other women also detained with a partner.


Lorena Rivas is a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. She attained a double degree in Psychology and Criminology and Criminal Justice and was awarded First Class Honours in Criminology and Criminal Justice for her dissertation on the impact of immigration detention on women detainees’ mental health and human rights. Building on this, Lorena’s doctoral thesis investigates the impact of long-term immigration detention on the physical, mental and social well-being of women detainees. Lorena also has research experience in other areas including international crimes, transitional justice and atrocity crimes, particularly in Latin America.


Dec 09 2021