‘I couldn’t report it, he was standing right next to me’: Women in prison and their narratives of under-reported non-fatal strangulation.

Esther Shackleton1, Deborah Olow1, Dr Mandy Wilson1, Dr Jocelyn Jones, Professor Tony Butler2

1National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
2School of Population Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Women in prison experience family and domestic violence (FDV) at substantially higher rates than their non-incarcerated counterparts. FDV is a complex public health issue that can be insidious and/or explicit. Non-fatal strangulation (NFS) is a particularly dangerous form of FDV as visible injury is not always present, yet it is associated with serious negative short and long term physical and mental health outcomes, and increases the risk of future fatality. NFS is also used as a fear tactic to coerce victims into remaining under the control of their partners.

Data collected as part of the NHMRC funded research project ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women perpetrators of violence: a trial of a prison-based intervention (Beyond Violence)’, suggests that rates of NFS reporting, most commonly that occurring in the context of intimate partner violence, are low among incarcerated women. Qualitative data are useful for understanding low reporting rates, as they provide the context needed to understand the barriers faced by such a unique and vulnerable population. In our study, many participants disclosed a fear of police, coercion by partner and, most notably, a fear of child protection involvement. The impacts of not reporting NFS may be compounded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Aboriginal) women, who are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised from FDV than non-Indigenous women.

A broader understanding of incarcerated women’s experiences of NFS will improve our knowledge of the barriers (and potential enablers) around disclosure of FDV. This is particularly necessary for Aboriginal women. Women in prison stand to benefit from more accessible, safe and realistic pathways to NFS reporting.


Esther and Debby are on the research team for the NHMRC funded project ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women perpetrators of violence: a trial of a prison-based intervention’, also known as Beyond Violence. Esther has a background in Sociology and Public Health, and Debby’s background is in Criminology and Justice.


Dec 09 2021