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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Parenting Roles And Experiences Of Abuse In Women Offenders: Review Of The Offender Intake Assessments

Number of women who indicated experiences of abuse

Review of the Domain Comments showed that women indicated a variety of types of childhood/adolescent environments and adulthood experiences. Women's descriptions of their experiences ranged from very positive statements about their childhood/adolescence and adulthood, to those of extreme violence and abuse. The contents of the Domain Comments covering the abuse issue varied tremendously. Some provided only general statements referring to experiences of abuse, such as: "reports that she was abused as a child," "grew up in an abusive/dysfunctional family," "was abused by her common law partner," etc. Other Domain Comments, documented women's indications of the specific types of abuse they suffered (physical, emotional, sexual). Examples of the indicated experiences of abuse are provided in Appendix B. General statements of abuse, as well as those that refer to specific types of abuse experienced during childhood/adolescence and/or adulthood, were collapsed here in order to provide an estimate of the proportion of women for whom it was documented that they indicated having experienced abuse during some period in their lives. This estimation resulted in 78.8% of women in the OIAs Review.

In some Domain Comments it was pointed out that a woman did not want to talk about her experiences of abuse in greater detail, or that a woman was not able to remember anything more specific about these experiences. It should be noted that the Survey also indicated the possibility that some women may not remember abuse at all. For that reason, it is important to keep in mind that if a woman did not indicate abuse, it does not mean that she did not have this type of experience.

Categorizing indicated experiences was problematic and difficult at times. In some instances, it was noted that the woman stated she had no experiences of abuse and had a positive relationship with her parents. Yet, she would describe a dysfunctional family environment in which she would routinely witness violence and fighting between her parents and/or siblings. In other cases, documented accounts of a woman's childhood experiences conveyed that she felt loved, accepted and nurtured during her childhood and that she lived in a stable and supportive family environment. The woman herself would qualify her childhood experiences as positive. Thus, despite the extremely different life stories, in both instances the relationships were described as "positive" by the women. For this study, the first case was coded as "dysfunctional/abusive," and the latter case as "positive childhood experiences." One rationale for this distinction was that it seemed more relevant for the purposes of this study to differentiate those women who may have some issues from their childhood experiences to deal with (although they may not call them experiences of abuse), from those who most likely do not, and whose childhood experiences may represent an "asset." Secondly, many of the women described experiences that they did not consider to represent abuse, such as neglect, rejection or witnessing violence which are in the literature identified as forms of abuse (Demare, 1996). This, combined with the fact that some women possibly need to redefine their experiences of abuse in order to survive them (and therefore may not define a certain experience as abuse), represented reasons for coding them as "experience of abuse." Finally, in some instances it was clear that women considered their childhood experiences as "positive" primarily in comparison to the extreme instances of abuse they experienced later on in their lives.

Keeping in mind the aforementioned difficulties and limitations of collecting data on the experiences of abuse by the method employed in the OIAs Review, it is not appropriate to conduct a statistical comparison of the findings from this study and those from the Survey. However, the percentage figures are similar. OIA Review showed that 78.8% of women indicated abuse. The Survey showed that "82% (84) of the women in PFW had been either physically or sexually abused and 72% (49) of those in the provinces" (p.30). Thus, although the possibility of comparing results of these two studies is very limited, it is nevertheless clear that they both indicate that a proportion of women who had experienced abuse is very high.

Finally, it should be noted that not all documented references women made in relation to their childhood and adulthood experiences necessarily referred to experiences of abuse, and as previously mentioned, some women conveyed that they had very positive relationships. These positive relationships were also coded in the present study.