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Stop the violence against women with disability

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Stop the violence against women with disability

Women with disability who live in institutions are often victims of violence and sexual abuse. Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes says we must work hard to stop the violence against all women.

According to recent research by Women With Disabilities Australia, the University of New South Wales and People with Disabilities Australia, Australian women and girls with disabilities are twice as likely as women and girls without disabilities to experience violence throughout their lives. Women with disabilities are 20% of the female population, and over one-third experience some form of intimate partner violence.

Despite this evidence, women and girls with disabilities are often not included in consultation on this issue, or on structural changes in service systems to stop this violence.

Last month, the Stop the Violence Project (STVP) hosted a national symposium at the Australian Human Rights Commission in Sydney. STVP aims to provide better policies and practices to improve how government and service providers respond to and prevent violence against women and girls with disability. The Project wants to ensure that women and girls with disability can live free from violence, exploitation and abuse.

Many stories were shared at the symposium about this issue. Three particularly remain with me.

Dr Gabrielle Drake, a researcher from the University of Western Sydney, told us women with disability who live in institutions and residential settings are often victims of violence and sexual abuse. This is particularly true of women with psycho-social disability or mental illness. Often, cigarettes are used as currency, and 'a smoke for a poke' is reported as a regular occurrence. The comment which saddened me most was from a woman who responded to the researcher with, "Are you talking about rape? I've been raped heaps of times. You just have to get used to it."

Imagine being a woman using a wheelchair and being in prison. We heard of one such woman in a Queensland prison whose case was to be heard in a court which required a drive of several hours over a winding mountain road. The transport provided for her was a ute, and her wheelchair - with her in it, unrestrained - was tied into the tray at the back. As a result of the ride, she was flung about and fell out of her wheelchair which caused her to vomit. The response from police on arrival was, "Why did you do that? Clean it up!"

The third story, for a change, is a positive one. During the Commission's Access to Justice consultations we visited the Women's Crisis Centre in Katherine in the Northern Territory. The Manager told us how she had worked to change the centre - and the culture of the staff - to welcome women with disability, particularly women with cognitive and psycho-social disability. She told us how in many places there is a clear policy to bar women for bad behaviour. She challenges this, saying that the circumstances which may have prompted that behaviour must be considered. Her approach is that the centre is a safe place for everyone, not just those who fit a particular model. A great example of inclusion. It didn't require more resources, just a change of attitude.

The Stop the Violence Project is creating the momentum to do more in this area. These and other stories have got me much more focussed on an issue to which I was already strongly committed. Women with disability must not be forgotten as we stop the violence.

References and further information

This article was originally produced by ABC Ramp Up.

 

To view this article visit the ABC Ramp Up website  http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2013/11/11/3885947.htm

 

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