There is substantial evidence that women in psychiatric and correctional settings constitute severely traumatized populations, and that women’s experiences of victimization and trauma are intricately connected to their mental health and substance use problems, and their pathways to crime. Yet, little research has focused on victimization and trauma in the lives of women at the interface of the criminal justice and mental health systems. This study explored the trauma-related experiences and needs of women receiving forensic mental health treatment services in British Columbia, Canada, and the challenges faced by forensic mental health professionals in addressing trauma-related issues with their female clients. The study was grounded in feminist criminological theories, and employed feminist qualitative interview methods. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 women receiving forensic mental health treatment services throughout the province, on an inpatient or outpatient basis, and 13 forensic mental health treatment staff. Women clients also completed a quantitative questionnaire, the Reactions to Research Participation Questionnaire, to explore their experiences as research participants and the ethics of trauma-focused research with a vulnerable population of women. Findings from the study revealed that the lives of women receiving forensic psychiatric services are replete with experiences of victimization and trauma, which are closely linked to their mental health, substance use, and criminal behaviour. Yet, interviews with both clients and staff suggested that little is being done in the forensic mental health system to address victimization and trauma. This finding centred around 3 emergent themes: (1) women’s experiences of victimization and trauma remain largely invisible owing to a lack of awareness and training among forensic staff; (2) women clients do not feel that they can open up to staff because they lack a voice and confidentiality in the forensic system; and (3) the forensic mental health system operates under a medical model, where trauma is considered to be neither legitimate nor particularly relevant to treatment. The dissertation explores opportunities for moving toward more trauma-informed approaches in the forensic mental health system, and provides empirical evidence on the ethics of trauma-focused research with women in inpatient and outpatient forensic mental health settings.
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Thesis advisor: Verdun-Jones, Simon
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