Working Alongside People with Intellectual and Learning Disabilities

WWILD Woman Speaks Up on ABC Radio on Violence Against Women with Disabilities

Transcript from ABC Radio Program PM, source and listen/download at: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2015/s4201927.htm

Nance Haxton reported this story on Friday, March 20, 2015 18:40:00

DAVID MARK: The legal system isn't protecting women with a disability from domestic violence, despite them being more at risk than other women. That finding was published today in the Griffith Law Review.

The University of Queensland study found that nearly a fifth of women with a disability have experienced violence at the hands of their partner.

Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: The study found that women with disabilities are almost 40 per cent more likely to experience domestic violence than other women.

University of Queensland Professor of Law Heather Douglas says they documented a number of forms of abuse that are unique to people with disabilities.

She says women who rely on their partners for support with daily tasks are particularly vulnerable.

HEATHER DOUGLAS: Many perpetrators hook into that disability in order to exacerbate the violence. So we've heard stories that perpetrators, for example, have moved aids or hidden aids, perhaps people have relied on their partner to take them to medical appointments or even to the toilet, and they've been left on the toilet for hours or not taken to the toilet.

We've read about people's medication being interfered with. We've read about pets, but in the case of service animals, particularly problematic, being harmed or removed. So it does act as an extra level of vulnerability to these people.

NANCE HAXTON: Is it still a hidden form of abuse that this would shock many people to hear that this is still happening I think.

HEATHER DOUGLAS: I think it is pretty shocking but it makes sense that more vulnerable people might be more at risk and I think that definitely it's still the case in the community.

There is this idea that often the perpetrator is considered by people out in the community as the sort of hero carer, so their view of the situation may be seen as the rational and the legal position really whereas actually the vulnerable victim's voice isn't even heard in that context.

NANCE HAXTON: WWILD is a community organisation that helps women with intellectual disabilities who have been victims of sexual violence.

Manager Leona Berry says she has seen a rise in the number of domestic violence cases that particularly exploit intellectually disabled women.

LEONA BERRY: Absolutely, I think particularly if a woman was to front without any support, being turned away is really the common experience.

NANCE HAXTON: Jennifer is one of those women. She's using a pseudonym so that her former partner won't track her down again.

Jennifer says she could not have coped without people from WWILD helping her navigate the legal system.

JENNIFER: I thought that the lawyer was good, though he sometimes said things that I didn't understand but then I had Jane there to help me go through it.

NANCE HAXTON: So that was the crucial thing, having someone there to support you through that court process really helped?

JENNIFER: It did help a lot in that because I wanted to have the support and then because I was worried that if I went to court thinking that it would be like, I said, my word against the ex-partner's and he gave me a six month DVO (domestic violence order). It was great, it was helpful. It's good to stay strong and positive.

NANCE HAXTON: Former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce recently handed down a report recommending an overhaul of the legal and justice system in Queensland to reduce domestic violence.

She also urged the Queensland government to do a specific review into the vulnerabilities of people with a disability in domestic violence situations.

Jennifer wants to encourage other women with an intellectual disability to not be afraid to seek help, and report violence against them.

JENNIFER: I got assaulted last year by an ex-partner and I just wanted to let people out there, that there is help out there and I hope people can understand that when they listen to my story and don't be scared and don't be afraid and that. But if you are scared and that, there's victims of assist that can help you out there and they can talk to you or fill out some forms or you can get some support.

DAVID MARK: That was domestic violence survivor Jennifer ending Nance Haxton's report.