WHY WE NEED A ROYAL COMMISSION INTO VIOLENCE AND ABUSE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY

May 31, 2017


OPINION PIECE 

Mark is a 39-year-old man with an intellectual and physical disability.

He received second-degree burns when he was dragged along the carpet by two staff members at his group home because he refused to go to his day placement activity.

Mark's family discovered the burns a few days later, but were never informed of the incident by the home.

Sadly, this account of abuse isn't an isolated incident.

A 22-year-old woman, with the mental age equivalent of a five-month-old baby, received a serious injury consistent with a brutal blow to the head. A medical examination revealed that she had been raped by a staff member at the facility where she lived and was pregnant as a result. This young woman was one of 122 people, living at a centre, who had been victims of violence and abuse.

This is why we need a Royal Commission into violence and abuse of people with disability. These harrowing accounts of abuse are sickening and unacceptable. The voices of people with disability, who have been abused, must be heard and justice must be delivered.

We simply can't let this abuse be swept under the carpet.

Labor will establish a Royal Commission into violence and abuse of people with disability. We will consult widely with the disability community about the terms of reference.

The scale and severity of abuse against people with disability in institutional care was outlined by an ABC TV Four Corners program in 2014. It became the catalyst for a Senate inquiry in 2015 which made 30 recommendations including the establishment of a Royal Commission.

It took the Turnbull Government 16 months to respond. The Government rejected a Royal Commission and accepted only one of the inquiry's 30 recommendations.

In March this year Four Corners again revealed further cases of sexual and physical abuse inflicted on people with disability and that perpetrators have not been prosecuted, and worse, may still be working in the disability sector.

According to the Department of Social Services' own National Abuse and Neglect Hotline a total of 891 cases were sighted between July 2012 and December 2014 with systemic abuse (23 percent), physical abuse (16 percent), psychological abuse (16 percent) and neglect (15 percent) being the highest of reported incidents.

The cases of violence and abuse that we know about are the tip of the iceberg.

Disabled People's Organisations Australia say that people with disability experience far higher rates of violence than the rest of the community. They estimate that 90 percent of women with an intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted in their lives, with 60 percent of these people falling victim to abuse before the age of 18.

Tragically, people with disability are often treated as "unreliable witnesses" and, as in the cases we have outlined, perpetrators have not been charged and continue to work with vulnerable people.

The continued abuse of Australians with disability by people who are meant to care for them, demands a Royal Commission.

Only a Royal Commission has the weight, authority and investigative powers to examine these horrific accounts of abuse and violence against people with disability.

Clearly there are significant, structural flaws in the systems designed to protect vulnerable people from predators; a failure of our legal systems to seek justice for victims; and a failure of governments to ensure the appropriate safeguards are in place.

This is not the fault of a single person, organisation or government. These failings reflect on all of us.

We cannot erase the pain and suffering that so many have already experienced, however, a Royal Commission will at last give people with disability, their families and carers the opportunity to be able to tell their stories and seek justice.

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on Monday 29 May 2017.