As part of the Disability and Domestic Violence Project consultations were held with disability, domestic violence and licensed boarding house representatives located in the Sydney inner west area of the AHDC Metro South region. These consultations aimed to gather information on the understanding, incidence and nature of domestic violence in licensed boarding houses, as well as processes that were in place to prevent and respond to these incidents when they occur. This information was used to inform the findings of the Accommodating Violence report.

The group attending the disability services consultation held in April 2010 consisted of representatives from a range of funded disability service providers and government agencies who were involved in supporting residents of licensed boarding houses.  As a group they were asked a series of questions, these questions and the groups answers are outlined below:

Is domestic violence an issue for people with disability in licensed boarding houses, if so, what does this look like?
Representatives were unanimous in their statement that domestic violence in the forms of physical violence in the home, threat of harm, shoving, hitting, biting, emotional blackmail, verbal abuse, intimidation, fear of harm, financial abuse-manipulation-control, isolation, withdrawal of activities/services, sexual abuse, aggressive/attitude/manner, exploitation (eg cigarettes), controlling, enforcing restrictions, retribution, stalking, misuse of power  was a daily experience for people with disability living in licensed boarding houses, whether this be resident to resident or resident to staff/paid/unpaid carer on whom they are dependent.

Who are most vulnerable and what makes people in licensed boarding houses particularly vulnerable?

  • Some people are more vulnerable than others, in particular those with less capacity to stand up for themselves such as people with intellectual disability;
  • those people who are used by staff to do jobs around the home then as a result are yelled at or denied things;
  • those with little or no family involvement;
  • those people who are under the financial control of the licensed manager because they ‘manage their money’;
  • those who do speak out and make complaints or raise concerns, they are more likely to be targeted;
  • abuse is normalised as an experience which is common to this kind of accommodation by both residents and service providers;
  • residents lack a knowledge of their rights and if they do know their rights they know that they have no legal tenure and can be kicked out if they make any complaint;
  • people are particularly vulnerable at night particularly due to a lack of adequate staff supervision. Some boarding houses are very large and one staff member on duty overnight cannot know or have control over everything that goes on;
  • residents commonly experience emotional abuse where they can be verbally abused one minute and then told they are loved by the staff the next;
  • their long term residency, dependency and association with the boarding house manager/staff can add to their sense of dependence and therefore vulnerability;
  • the controlling nature/culture of the boarding house means people are commonly interrogated about their activities, conversations. They are commonly monitored and judged.

What does the response by support agencies look like?

  • threat of, or actual homelessness of the resident;
  • threat of retribution to the resident or service provider supporting them;
  • actual retribution to residents for talking to persons external to the licensed boarding house;
  • ADHC encourages the reporting of complaints and concerns to ADHC . With evidence ADHC are in a better position to pursue breaches of licence conditions and/or reiterate to the licensee/licensed manager their obligations under the licence conditions. A history of evidence is essential if ADHC are going to pursue a prosecution.
  • the relocation of  the resident.

To what extent does the disability sector seek legal remedies for clients in licensed boarding houses?

  • none of the participants had ever sought this kind of remedy;
  • violence and abuse in licensed boarding houses hasn’t been considered by this group as constituting domestic violence.

What is stopping disability service providers seeking remedies?

  • the client’s choice. In many cases the client is too scared of repercussions if they do speak out;
  • line management reporting. Front line staff report incidents of abuse, violence, concerns to their manager and then the responsibility for action lies with them. Query whether action is being taken by managers;
  • fear of causing a fuss about one person becomes a concern and risk for everyone. General outcomes aimed for by service providers are subsequently limited and affects many more people.

What is a successful outcome?

  • violence stops and the person receives a compassionate response;
  • alternative options of suitable alternative accommodation and support is facilitated. The fact that there is limited disability support and housing support services for people with disability, particularly those with low care needs, is a significant barrier as they rarely have any alternative choice of accommodation. Lack of legal tenure and no alternatives means that people are silenced into accepting violence within their domestic settings;
  • attitudinal change in Licensed boarding house staff;
  • staff training provided to licensed boarding house staff (currently there no specific requirements with regard to specified competencies or  qualifications);
  • part of the success of an outcome is simply having someone believe in the victims story.

What do you want in way of support and sector development to address these issues?

  • series of seminars for the licensed sector;
  • relocation of residents to alternative suitable accommodation – not just to another boarding house;
  • staff and managers of licensed boarding houses to receive training on abuse and neglect and the understand the criminal implications of certain behaviours;
  • ADHC full service review action plans to incorporate training and service development recommendations as part of their expectation of compliance;
  • regular sector forums/workshops on issues generally so that service providers gain a better understanding of the pathways to action;
  • training and education opportunities for residents;
  • a mechanism to tap into information sources – recommendations to group included Domestic Violence Coalition, Australian Domestic Violence Clearing House bulletins, participation in Ombudsman consultations, use of ECAV – Education Centre Against Violence.