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A holistic strategy of prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership is necessary to combat violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.

Prevention People with disability should not find themselves in situations where they have a heightened risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation simply because they are people with disability. Institutional settings provide the most documented cases of heightened risk.

Protection People with disability must be served by legislative frameworks that uphold their right to be free from violence and abuse. For example, domestic violence legislation which recognises that perpetrators can also include carers, or co-residents of people with disability who live in institutions. Policies should leave no room for perverse outcomes such as housing support options that result in segregated accommodation.

Prosecution Violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against people with disability must beinvestigated and prosecutedto the same extent asfor people without disability, and people with disability must be supported to participate in proceedings as victims, defendants and witnesses.

Partnership Disability support providers, the police, the justice system, domestic violence and mainstream services must work in harmony to ensure that the response to abuse is quick, adequate and that there are clear pathways to address prevention, protection and prosecution of abuse.

It is well documented that people with disability experience significantly higher levels of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. For example:

Women and girls with disability are overrepresented as victims of rape and sexual assault: In 2011, a quarter of rape cases reported by females in Australia were perpetrated against women with disability, and it is estimated that up to 70 per cent of women with psychosocial disability in Australia have experienced past sexual abuse including child sexual assault.

Police and lawyers frequently do not investigate and prosecute incidents of abuse as crime, meaning that people with disability have no mechanism for justice or redress: This can be due to attitudinal barriers including a lack of disability awareness and a failure to recognise people with disability as reliable witnesses. The result is that people with disability are more likely to experience multiple episodes of abuse because perpetrators perceive little likelihood of sanction or police intervention if caught.

The law in Australia allows for the non-therapeutic sterilisation of children with disability, and of adults with disability without their full and informed consent: This is an egregious form of human rights abuse which various UN bodies have identified as constituting violence and/or torture.

There is no national framework that addresses the use of restricted practices (seclusion, chemical, mechanical and physical restraint) against people with disability: A framework must be introduced which is in line with prevailing international human rights norms. Restrictive practices carried out by persons such as carers, teachers, or boarding house operators for example can constitute assault and should be treated accordingly by the police.

Institutional living arrangements such as social care homes, licenced boarding houses and some forms of group homes create environments where violence and abuse can occur with impunity:  By their nature, institutional living arrangements reduce privacy, choice and autonomy, increase isolation and segregation and foster relationships of confinement and dependency; they are breeding grounds for abusive relationships and silent suffering behind closed doors. It is vital that the social and economic structures that compel people to live in these congregate living arrangements are broken down, and that people with disability are supported to live in the community. Redeveloping institutions so that they are smaller (e.g. cluster housing), in materially better conditions (e.g. contemporary supported accommodation facilities) or located closer to large towns and cities does not reduce the risk of abuse of people with disability.

Mainstream services are not equipped to assist people with disability fleeing abuse: A person may be restricted from using domestic violence, housing, refuge, or shelter services because policies deny them access, buildings and transport is inaccessible, interpreters are not provided or support needs are not met.

People with disability are exploited financially by people intended to support them: Family members, carers and guardians are often in a position to appropriate funds from a person with disability either without their knowledge or frequently without their informed consent. This financial abuse makes the person with disability dependent and commonly leads to instances of neglect.

Key Recommendations

  • Prohibit further funding which is directed at maintaining or developing institutional living arrangements for people with disability.
  • Implement best practice prevention measures aimed at ending violence and abuse experienced by people with disability. These should include education programs targeted at providers of disability and domestic violence supports and services, and for people in a position to identify and help victims of abuse such as social workers, carers, health care professionals, police and disability service staff.
  • Establish an independent, statutory, national protection mechanism that has broad functions and powers to protect, investigate and enforce findings related to situations of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disability.
  • Develop a national framework that addresses the use of restrictive practices. This should include a monitoring mechanism.
  • Funding to mainstream services which support people fleeing violence and abuse should include performance indicators around making their services and facilities accessible and inclusive.
  • Introduce legislation prohibiting the non-therapeutic sterilisation of people with disability without their full and informed consent.

 Stop the Abuse Word 101kb

It is estimated that 20% of Australians are people with a disability. Yet historically, we have been shut out of civic life, the community and jobs. Hindered by negative attitudes, unimaginative programs, and inaccessible transport, buildings and information, people with disability in Australia have been excluded from ‘a fair go’, and basic human rights.

People with Disability Australia is uniting Australians with disability to call on government, politicians, the media, business and voters to end protracted and systemic marginalisation: to stop the abuse of people with disability and bring an end to institutions; to increase the number of people with disability in jobs and reduce poverty; to provide people with disability the adequate and appropriate supports we need to live lives of our own choosing by building a sustainable, person centred DisablityCare Australia; and to promote, protect and fulfil our human rights.