WWDA Submission to the South Australian Government’s Discussion Paper: “Valuing South Australia’s Women: Towards A Women’s Safety Strategy For South Australia”


In March 2004, the South Australian Government released a Discussion Paper entitled: “Valuing South Australia’s Women: Towards A Women’s Safety Strategy For South Australia”. The Discussion Paper proposed four key directions for a Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia, and sought comments from the community on the proposed directions, as well as seeking comment on any identified gaps in the Paper. This Submission is WWDA’s response to that Discussion Paper. Copyright WWDA 2004.


Synopsis

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) Inc. is the national peak body for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation constituted and driven by women with disabilities. It has a very diverse membership base, with associate members from a wide range of sectors – all who support the self-determination of women with disabilities.

This paper is a Submission in response to the Discussion Paper entitled “Valuing South Australia’s Women: Towards A Women’s Safety Strategy For South Australia”. In March 2004, the South Australian Minister for Social Justice and the Status of Women, the Hon Stephanie Key, released the Discussion Paper, identifying it as ‘an essential step in fulfilling the Government’s pledge made at the last election to reduce violence against women’. The Discussion Paper proposes four key directions for a Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia, and seeks comments from the community on the proposed directions, as well as seeking comment on any identified gaps in the Paper.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is deeply concerned that the Discussion Paper “Valuing South Australia’s Women: Towards A Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia” fails to recognise the major and largely unaddressed issue of violence against women with disabilities. The paper ignores the extent, pervasive nature, and incidence of violence against women with disabilities. It ignores the serious failure of services to respond adequately to women with disabilities experiencing violence. It ignores the need for responses tailored to the specific circumstances of women with disabilities experiencing violence, and at risk of violence.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) strongly urges the South Australian Government to address these serious omissions, and ensure that the Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia specifically address the over-representation of women with disabilities as victims of all forms of violence, along with the urgent need to not only reduce, but prevent violence against women with disabilities.


Section 1: About Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities. It is the only organisation of its kind in Australia and one of only a very small number internationally. WWDA is unique, in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation.

The objectives of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) are:

  • to actively promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life;
  • to advocate on issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia; and
  • to seek to be the national representative organisation for women with disabilities in Australia by: undertaking systemic advocacy; providing policy advice; undertaking research; and providing support, information and education.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) addresses disability within a social model, which identifies the barriers and restrictions facing women with disabilities as the focus for reform.

NB: More information about WWDA, including its major roles and functions, is included in Appendix One.


Section 2: Gender and Disability

Women with disabilities in Australia encounter discrimination on several levels, each of which restricts their options and opportunities for equal participation in the economic, social, and political life of society. Women with disabilities are disadvantaged attitudinally, economically, politically, psychologically and socially. Aside from ableism, women with disabilities also face sexism, racism, ageism and discrimination based on sexual orientation. They face double discrimination by society – as women they are discriminated against on the basis of gender and as people with disabilities, they are discriminated against on the basis of their disability. This discrimination is often embedded in cultural societal values that limit women’s opportunities for self-improvement and self-development (Frohmader 1998; Pardo 1997).

The position from which women with disabilities seek to participate fully in the community is socially constructed rather than in direct relationship with medically defined impairment. This means that women who have physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities, or mental or emotional distress, are denied opportunities, discriminated against and excluded by the barriers that society creates. It is more often than not the experience of discrimination, lack of services, inaccessible transport, violence, inflexible working opportunities, and/or lack of access to education that disables many women with disabilities, rather than the actual experience of the impairment.

Disability, then, is the result of disabling social, environmental and attitudinal barriers. Social change, in this context, is about the eradication of oppression experienced by people with impairments. This contrasts strongly with the dominant ‘medical’ construction of disability, which emphasises overcoming or conquering disability through medical treatment or individual fortitude (Crowe, 1996). The social construction of disability is critical to understanding the nature and extent of violence against women with disabilities (Howe, 2000).

Despite the fact that in Australia, approximately 20% of all women are disabled and more than 50% of people with disabilities are women, women with disabilities continue to be categorised as a special interest group; their experience isolated from the mainstream and marginalised.

(See Appendix Two for information regarding the status of women with disabilities in Australia).


Section 3: Violence Against Women with Disabilities: The Context

Until recent years, there has been a profound silence around the experiences of violence among women with disabilities. The issues for women with disabilities have largely been excluded from most generic policies and from responses to the issue of women and violence. Women with disabilities are largely invisible in both the disability and women’s movements, a situation that has relegated them to a position of extreme marginalistaion and consequently, to increased risks and experiences of violence.

3.1. Incidence

There is a dearth of research in Australia about the relationship between gender, violence and disability. This is borne out by literature reviews conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology (1996), Women With Disabilities Australia (1997), Howe (2000), and Frohmader (1998). It is also evidenced in reports by the National Committee on Violence Against Women (1993) and the NSW Department for Women (1995). Research into the extent of violence against women with disabilities in Australia is also limited by the lack of data collected on disability by law enforcement agencies and violence support services (Cattalini, 1993; Sobsey and Doe, 1991). Traditionally, much of the literature on violence against women with disabilities has tended to focus particularly on sexual abuse and mainly in relation to people with intellectual disabilities (McCarthy, 1996; Sobsey and Doe, 1991; Muccigrosso, 1991).

Overseas studies have found that women with disabilities, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or class are assaulted, raped and abused at a rate of at least two times greater than non-disabled women (Sobsey, 1988, 1994; Cusitar,1994; Stimpson and Best,1991; DAWN 1988).

Sobsey (1988) suggests that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Muccigrosso (1991) estimates the incidence of sexual assault of people with developmental disabilities is at least four times higher than within the non-disabled population. A qualitative study by Nosek, found approximately one third of women with physical disability had experienced sexual abuse at some stage in their life (Nosek, 1996). Similarly, in Doucette’s study of Canadian women with disabilities, 40% experienced abuse and 12% had been raped (Nosek, 1996).

There are relatively few studies into the incidence of physical violence and rates vary widely. A study for the Canadian Ministry of Community and Social Services in Toronto found 33% of women with disabilities were assaulted mostly by their husbands compared with 22% of non-disabled women (Nosek, 1996). Feuestein estimates that upward of 85% of women with disabilities are victims of domestic violence in comparison with 25% to 50 % of the general population (cited in Waxman, 1991).

In Australia, the nature and extent of violence against women with disabilities is mainly derived from qualitative research which has tended to explore violence in relation to barriers to accessing services or with people with intellectual disabilities in institutional care.

What we do know from the research available, is that women with disabilities experience violence in situations similar to all women: that is, they will be assaulted by someone who is known to them, will most likely be assaulted by a man and it will most likely be in private, in their place of residence, the home of a friend or relative or in their workplace (Catallini, 1993). Catallini describes how these factors mitigate against women with disabilities: firstly, women with disabilities are more likely to be in institutions which are “closed” and will often be under the management of men; residents of institutions are more likely to be women; women with disabilities are more likely to work in closed environments where the supervisors are male (Catallini, 1993). For some women with disabilities, ‘their place of residence’ may be a community based group home or residential institution, a boarding house, shelter, hospital, psychiatric ward, or nursing home. Within these varied settings violence may be perpetrated by a number of people who come into contact with the woman, in the course of her domestic life. These may include other residents, co-patients, a relative and/or a carer, whether family member or paid service provider (Frohmader 1998, KPMG 2000).

3.2. The nature of violence against women with disabilities

Violence against women with disabilities has been identified as not only more extensive than amongst the general population but also more diverse in nature than for women in general. A concise definition of violence in this area is made difficult by the pervasive nature of abuse against women with disabilities. Cattalini argues the nature of violence against women with disabilities incorporates an “almost endless list of injustices and maltreatment” including unnecessary institutionalisation, denial of control over their bodies, lack of financial control, denial of social contact, employment and community participation as well as physical, mental and sexual abuse (Cattalini, 1993). Feminist writers on disability believe people with disabilities in general and women with disabilities in particular, are at greater risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as to other forms of violence, such as institutional violence, chemical restraint, drug use, unwanted sterilisation, medical exploitation, humiliation, and harassment (Waxman, 1991; Crossmaker, 1991; Morris, 1993; Chenoweth, 1997).

Evidence from women with disabilities suggests that violence against them differs in significant ways to violence against other women. There are factors which make women with disabilities both more likely to be targets of violence, and at the same time less likely to receive assistance or services if they experience domestic violence. For example:

  • Women who are dependent on carers may be more vulnerable to violence than women who don’t depend on carers. Many women with disabilities are in positions where they rely on a carer to provide a range of needs – from basic needs such as eating and dressing – to more complex ones such as transportation. The control the carer has on the lives of women with disabilities can be misused and often the women do not have a choice. This is particularly the case when the carer is a spouse/partner.
  • A woman who is unable to speak may be seen by a perpetrator as an ‘easier’ target for abuse.
  • Many women with disabilities are not believed when they disclose their experiences of violence. People in positions of power such as doctors, police, carers, spouses and family may deny that the woman’s evidence is credible.
  • Women with disabilities can often be in situations where other people exercise control and power over their lives. This power imbalance increases the risk of women with disabilities as targets of violence. Many women with disabilities are acutely aware of their own powerlessness – they may be more likely to fear harm due to the impact of their disability, particularly any physical, psychological or emotional dependency.

(Frohmader 1998, Strahan 1997, WWDA 1998)

Andrews and Veronen (1993) cite nine reasons for increased vulnerability to victimisation and violence among people with disabilities, including:

  • Increased dependency on others for long-term care;
  • Denial of human rights that results in perceptions of powerlessness;
  • Less risk of discovery as perceived by the perpetrator;
  • Difficulty some survivors have in being believed;
  • Less education about appropriate and inappropriate sexuality;
  • Social isolation and increased risk of manipulation;
  • Lack of economic independence;
  • Physical helplessness and vulnerability in public places; and
  • Values and attitudes within the field of disabilities toward mainstreaming and integration without consideration for each individual’s capacity for self-protection.

An extensive study into violence across a range of disabilities was carried out by Sobsey and Doe (1991) who explored 166 reports of sexual abuse through requests sent to a sample of sexual assault treatment centres and disability advocacy groups. This study sheds considerable light on the nature of violence, the gender and relationship of victims and perpetrators and the conditions under which sexual abuse occurs. Participants ranged from 18 months to 57 years of age; almost all adults were women (95.6% of those over 21years). 91% of perpetrators were male and in 99% of cases the perpetrator was known to the victim. 70% of participants were people with intellectual impairment and 20.4% had some form of mobility impairment. Significantly, in 44% of instances, the location of the abuse was disability-related, that is, a hospital, group home or institution.

Womendez and Shneiderman (1991) identify the nature of domestic violence against women with disabilities which may include abuse common to all women such as incest, rape, beating and shooting and in addition be particular to a woman’s disability such as withholding of medicine, removing a wheelchair, a ramp or a white cane.

Crossmaker (1991) explores the nature of institutional abuse against women with mental illness and intellectual disability. She notes that power and abuse are pivotal to the nature of institutions and create the same effects of passivity, withdrawal and a loss of sense of self. In this way institutions can create or exacerbate mental illness. Crossmaker cites instances where sexual abuse has resulted in effects that are diagnosed as mental illness whilst the abuse goes undetected and unexplored. Crossmaker and other researchers (Waxman, 1991; Sobsey and Doe, 1991) have also identified the rewarding of compliance to medication and compliant behaviour as a predisposing factor in the vulnerability of women with disabilities to abuse in institutions.

Work in America and Canada also indicates the serious failure of treatment and abuse response services to respond adequately to women with disabilities experiencing violence. People with developmental disabilities are often not able to make use of sexual abuse prevention and response services (Muccigrosso, 1991). Feminist writers point out that it is frequently more difficult for a woman with a disability to leave an abusive situation because of dependency on her partner/carer for physical care and yet if she manages to leave may not be able to locate a refuge or support service that is accessible and responsive to her needs (Womendez and Schniederman, 1991; McPherson, 1991; Gill, 1996).

Of particular concern is the seeming tolerance of abuse toward women with disabilities that is widespread in our communities. Almost all literature examining this issue identifies the failure of those responsible for providing protection and care to notice violence, believe the victim, protect against future violence or take legal action against the perpetrator (Carlson, 1997, McCarthy,1993; Waxman, 1991; Crossmaker, 1991; McPherson, 1991; Sobsey and Doe, 1991).


Comments on the Discussion Paper entitled “Valuing South Australia’s Women: Towards A Women’s Safety Strategy For South Australia”

4.1. Definition of Violence and Domestic Violence

The Discussion Paper “Valuing South Australia’s Women: Towards A Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia” proposes the Women’s Safety Strategy adopt the definition of violence against women adopted by the United Nations through the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Paper also states that ‘in its initial phase of development, the South Australian Women’s Safety Strategy will focus on domestic violence and sexual assault’. Despite this, no definition of domestic violence is provided. Definitions are important and will set the scope of the Strategy.

WWDA is concerned that the Discussion Paper does not qualify what it means by ‘domestic’ violence. Given that the Strategy intends to focus on domestic violence in its initial phase, the term should be defined. It should be broadly defined in order to take into account the diverse range of relationships women with disabilities may be in. As outlined earlier in this paper, for some women with disabilities, ‘their place of residence’ may be a community based group home or residential institution, a boarding house, shelter, hospital, psychiatric ward, or nursing home. Within these varied settings violence may be perpetrated by a number of people who come into contact with the woman, in the course of her domestic life. These may include other residents, co-patients, a relative and/or a carer, whether family member or paid service provider (Frohmader 1998, KPMG 2000).

Over the past 30 years, researchers have documented in detail the restrictions, abuse and deprivations which have been experienced by people living in institutions (see for example Wolfensberger et al 1972; Wolfensberger 1975; Hayes 1984; Rothman and Rothman 1984; Potts and Fido 1991). It is widely acknowledged and recognised that women with disabilities who live in institutions are more likely to experience violence. For example, the study by Sobsey and Doe (1991), which explored 166 reports of sexual abuse, found that in 44% of instances, the location of the abuse was disability-related, that is, a hospital, group home or institution.

Research undertaken in Australia has identified that domestic violence experienced by many women with disabilities may not be reflected in the legislation or service charters. This gap in access to protective legislation for women with disabilities has been acknowledged in a number of reports (Swift 1998, Qld Dept of Families, Youth and Community Care 1998, Qld Women’s Consultative Council 1996). The reports highlight the need for States and Territories to amend and expand appropriate policies and legislation to protect women with disabilities from domestic violence as they experience it.

Any definition of ‘domestic violence’ needs to be sufficiently broad to cover spousal relationships, intimate personal relationships (including dating relationships and same sex relationships), family relationships (with a broad definition of relative) and formal and informal care relationships. WWDA considers that it is vital that ‘formal’ care relationships are covered within any definition of domestic violence. For example, some existing State/Territory domestic/family violence policies limit the definition in this respect, to only covering ‘informal care relationships (ie: those that apply to domestic support and personal care relationships provided without fee or reward). Clearly, by restricting the definition to encompass informal care relationships only, many women with disabilities will not be covered by the definition (eg: those living in group homes; those paying for attendant care etc).

WWDA believes that the definition of ‘violence’ currently preferred in the Discussion Paper, should be expanded to describe what ‘behaviours’ constitute ‘violence’ in the context of the Women’s Safety Strategy. The same would be required for ‘domestic violence’. For example, as Frances (1999) points out:

Not all abusive behaviours are technically against the law. Violence and abusive behaviours occur on a continuum which at one end may not appear to be particularly severe. The problem is that individuals, families and communities come to accept increasingly severe and more frequent violence as ‘normal’ behaviour.

Violence against women with disabilities takes a number of forms. It is clear that violence against women with disabilities may be perpetrated not just by an intimate partner or spouse but by relatives, caregivers (paid and unpaid, male and female), co-patients, residential and institutional staff, other service providers.

The forms of violence and how they might relate to women with disabilities include:

4.1.1. Physical violence
Physical violence includes all types of assaults and torture and occurs when the offender hits, kicks, pinches, gouges, chokes or pushes a woman, or uses a weapon against her. For women with disabilities physical violence may include refusing to help her go to the bathroom or tying her to a chair and telling her its for her own “safety”, or taking control of her wheelchair and pushing her around against her will. The use of restraints is a form of physical and emotional violence, likely to occur in residential settings.

4.1.2. Sexual assault
Sexual assault is when the offender forces or coerces a woman into any kind of sexual activity without her freely given consent. This might include telling her things of a sexual nature she does not want to hear, forcing her to kiss him/her, forcing her to look at or touch his/her genitals, touching her where she does not want to be touched, or forcing her to have sex. Consent in this context, is the agreement given by the woman, where both people are of legal age. To give valid consent, the woman must understand what she is physically consenting to, for example kissing, petting etc. She must also understand the sexual nature of the touching, as opposed to non-sexual touching associated with washing or receiving medical treatment. The woman must understand and be able to exercise the right to refuse a sexual relationship. Sexual assault can also include the offender forcing her to look at sexual pictures or videos, demanding sexual favours in order for her to access services or care, or sexually abusing her under the pretence of ‘educating her about her sexuality’.

4.1.3. Emotional or Psychological abuse
Emotional abuse refers to harm to a person’s self-concept and mental well-being, as a result of being subjected to behaviours such as severe verbal abuse, continual rejection, physical or social isolation, threats of abuse (which may also be physical assault), harassment, frightening, dominating or bullying. For women with disabilities, this may also include taking away her wheelchair or other aids/equipment that are essential for her to maintain some level of independence, restraining her hands when she needs them to communicate, forbidding any contact with family and friends, threatening to withdraw services or threatening to send her to an institution.

4.1.4. Neglect
Neglect refers to the harm caused by failure to provide adequate support, food, shelter, clothing or hygienic living conditions. It also includes failure to provide adequate information and education in the use of poisons, alcohol or drugs. For women with disabilities neglect may include leaving a woman in soiled clothes for ‘punishment’, or leaving her for extended periods in bathtubs or beds, or forcing her to eat at a pace that exceeds her ability and comfort.

4.1.5. Destruction of Property
For women with disabilities, this form of violence can include destruction of (or threats to destroy) the woman’s belongings, possessions and/or pets. Offenders may threaten to cause injury to a woman’s guide dog or threaten to destroy assistive devices that are essential for the woman to maintain some level of independence.

4.1.6. Financial abuse
Financial abuse refers to unequal control or access to shared or personal resources. For example, the offender might deny the woman the right to control her own finances or a financial guardian may abuse his/her position.

4.1.7. Other Forms of Violence
Other forms of violence against women with disabilities include:

  • chemical restraint;
  • over-prescribing of drugs;
  • confinement;
  • denial of services;
  • blocked access to care;
  • with-holding of food, care, medications;
  • denial of access to information, leading to increased vulnerability;
  • with-holding access to education;
  • forced abortions and sterilisations; control of reproduction and menstruation.

(Sources: WWDA 1998, 1999, Disabled Women’s Network Canada 1994)

Any definition of violence (including ‘domestic violence’) needs to articulate the different forms which violence takes, including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, social and economic abuse.

As Chenoweth and Cook (1997) state:

‘a broad definition of violence is critical in addressing the experiences of women with disabilities, who are likely to experience far higher rates of violence through domestic violence, physical assault, rape, and sexual assault than do women generally. Women with disabilities are also more likely to be the victims of other crimes, such as assaults and theft. They also experience violence in two other ways: through institutional abuse and through control of their reproduction and menstruation.’

Despite the scope of behaviours that are defined as domestic violence, research indicates that the community views domestic violence primarily as physical violence (Strategic Partners, April 2000). Articulating and expanding the definition of both ‘violence’ and ‘domestic violence’ within the Women’s Safety Strategy would do much to influence the interpretation of violence both within the community and the criminal justice system.

The definitions of ‘violence’ and ‘domestic violence’ set the scope of the proposed Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia. Women with disabilities have the right to the same protection by domestic/family violence laws and policies against violence in their domestic situations as the rest of the community. Accordingly, the definition of ‘violence’ and ‘domestic violence’ should be articulated to reflect this.

4.2. Understanding Violence Against Women

The Discussion Paper, in discussing the incidence of violence against women, and who uses violence against women, fails to acknowledge violence against women with disabilities, despite the increased incidence and the pervasive nature of violence against women with disabilities. The Paper concentrates its discussion on ‘spousal violence’. Clearly, women with disabilities experience violence in situations similar to all women: that is, they will be assaulted by someone who is known to them, will most likely be assaulted by a man and it will most likely be in private, in their place of residence, the home of a friend or relative or in their workplace. However, as has already been detailed in this paper, violence against women with disabilities is perpetrated not just by an intimate partner or spouse but by relatives, caregivers (paid and unpaid, male and female), co-patients, residential and institutional staff, other service providers, institutions and more. Violence against women with disabilities takes a number of forms. Women with disabilities, unlike their non-disabled counterparts, are much more likely to be the victims of other crimes of violence, such as assaults and theft. For example, a Victorian study of people with an intellectual disability found that people living in community settings were more likely to be victims of criminal acts of violence, the most common of which were sexual offenses, followed by assault, theft and murder (Johnson, Andrew and Topp 1988). In South Australia, Wilson and Brewer (1992) found that people in their study with an intellectual disability were more than 12 times more likely to be robbed, 3 times as likely to be assaulted, and that women with an intellectual disability were more than 10 times as likely to be assaulted than other women.

Women with disabilities further experience violence in other ways different to non-disabled women, including: through institutional abuse and through control of their reproduction and menstruation. The practice of unlawful sterilisation of girls and women with disabilities in Australia has been recognised by Commonwealth and State Governments (Law Reform Commission of Western Australia 1994; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1997; Family Law Council 1994). Despite legislation that is meant to ensure that all sterilisations conducted on girls and young women with disabilities be authorised by a court or tribunal, it is clear that these authorisations have not been occurring and that the practice of unlawful sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities continues in Australia (Brady, Briton and Grover 2001; Hastings 1999; Brady and Grover 1997; Toovey 1999).

In discussing the incidence of violence against women, and who uses violence against women, the Discussion Paper highlights the statement: ‘Violence against women is linked to social inequality’. Women with disabilities are, from the government record, one of the most marginalized, disadvantaged neglected, excluded and isolated groups in Australia. Women with disabilities in Australia encounter discrimination on several levels, each of which restricts their options and opportunities for equal participation in the economic, social, and political life of society. Women with disabilities are disadvantaged attitudinally, economically, politically, psychologically and socially. Aside from ableism, women with disabilities also face sexism, racism, ageism and discrimination based on sexual orientation. They face double discrimination by society – as women they are discriminated against on the basis of gender and as people with disabilities, they are discriminated against on the basis of their disability. This discrimination is often embedded in cultural societal values that limit women’s opportunities for self-improvement and self-development (Frohmader 1998; Pardo 1997) (See Appendix 2 for more information on the status of women with disabilities in Australia).

In discussing the incidence of violence against women, and who uses violence against women, the Discussion Paper highlights the statement: Most women try to manage their partner’s violence by themselves. Again, the focus here appears to be on spousal violence. As has already been outlined in this paper, violence against women with disabilities is not just perpetrated by an intimate partner or spouse.

The Discussion Paper highlights the statement: Most women seek informal support (family and friends) when first seeking help. Whilst WWDA acknowledges the contribution families provide to people with disabilities, and the importance of families, it must also be recognized that people with disabilities live in different family structures. For example, there are families of origin and families of choice or destination, each of which has differing characteristics, relationships, decision making processes and power arrangements. When families as carers are unable to deal with both internal and external pressures, the most vulnerable member of that unit – the person with disabilities – can be placed in physical, economic and psychological jeopardy. In many cases, ‘family’ does not exist as a support for the person with disabilities. In some cases, particularly for women with disabilities, the ‘family’ can in fact be the site of oppression, particularly in situations of domestic violence (WWDA 2002).

Within the section of the Discussion Paper entitled ‘Understanding Violence Against Women’, it states: ‘The development of the Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia understands violence as being based on an unequal distribution of power’. Clearly, for many women with disabilities, socialisation processes in childhood and adulthood that emphasise their vulnerability and encourage compliance place them in disempowered positions that exacerbate an imbalance of power. Women with disabilities can often be in situations where other people exercise control and power over their lives. This power imbalance increases the risk of women with disabilities as targets of violence. Many women with disabilities are acutely aware of their own powerlessness – they may be more likely to fear harm due to the impact of their disability, particularly any physical, psychological or emotional dependency. Sobsey (1994) describes the power inequities between victim and perpetrator and the fact that women with disabilities may have limited skills to protect themselves. These two factors combine to increase the risk of violence generally. For women with disabilities living in the community, this vulnerability often translates into risks for physical and sexual assault, rape, robbery and exploitation.

4.3. Recognising Diversity

Within the section of the Discussion Paper entitled ‘Recognising Diversity’ it states: ‘The development of the Women’s Safety Strategy for South Australia recognises the diversity of women, their experiences of violence and the impact of their experiences’. WWDA would argue that a Women’s Safety Strategy that ignores the extent, pervasive nature, and incidence of violence against women with disabilities, can hardly be considered as ‘recognising diversity’.

In the preamble of the Discussion Paper, the Minister for Social Justice and the Status of Women, the Hon Stephanie Key states: “I believe it is important that the Women’s Safety Strategy draws on ideas and experiences of everyone in the community. So your feedback on this Discussion Paper is both valued and essential”. However, the Discussion Paper was only made available in Portable Document Format (PDF) on the South Australian Government websites (Department of Health and Office for Women). PDF documents are not accessible to a number of people with disabilities. Whenever PDF documents are used on the web, they should always be supplemented by an accessible alternative (in HTML, RTF, or text format). In August 2002, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission issued the following statement:

‘The Commission’s view is that organisations who distribute content only in PDF format, and who do not also make this content available in another format such as RTF, HTML, or plain text, are liable for complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)’.

It is difficult to comprehend how the South Australian Government can claim that the Women’s Safety Strategy will ‘recognise diversity’ when it cannot even meet fundamental requirements for consulting with people with disabilities on it’s development.

Given the extent, pervasive nature, and incidence of violence against women with disabilities, coupled with the serious failure of services to respond adequately to women with disabilities experiencing violence, WWDA strongly recommends that the South Australian Women’s Safety Strategy must, as a priority, recognise, articulate, and respond to the experiences of women with disabilities.

4.4. Key Direction 1: Prevention of Violence against Women

Clearly, prevention of violence against women should be a key component of the Women’s Safety Strategy. Any objectives, principle statements and so on, must be developed in such a way that they are inclusive of women with disabilities. It is outside the scope of this Paper to detail strategies and interventions to prevent violence against women with disabilities. However, a clear and fundamental principle guiding any Strategy development must be the meaningful and integral involvement of women with disabilities at all stages of intervention planning, implementation and evaluation. Women with disabilities serve as an anchor to reality and a resource for information on the various influences that could affect the outcome of any intervention. Most importantly, women with disabilities have a right to be involved in issues which affect their lives.

In relation to the ‘Prevention of Violence against women’ broad aims currently in the Discussion Paper, WWDA recommends that they be re-worked as follows to ensure inclusiveness of women with disabilities.

Current Wording: Ensure the messages about violence against women are consistent across all systems and services.
Suggested Wording: Ensure the messages about violence against women are inclusive, accessible and consistent across all systems and services.

Current Wording: Enhance community ownership and responses to violence against women.
Suggested Wording: Actively foster community ownership and responses to violence against women.

Current Wording: Ensure local networks are supported to undertake education campaigns in their communities.
Suggested Wording: Ensure local networks are supported to undertake inclusive education campaigns in their communities.

Current Wording: Ensure a range of prevention strategies are provided.
Suggested Wording: Ensure that a range of prevention strategies provided which are tailored to meet the specific circumstances of women experiencing violence.

Current Wording: Ensure a range of universal and targeted community education programs are provided.
Suggested Wording: Ensure a range of universal, inclusive, targeted and accessible community education programs are provided.

Current Wording: Ensure school curriculum provides for an understanding of healthy relationships, gender and race issues and the impact of violence.
Suggested Wording: Ensure school curriculum provides for an understanding of healthy relationships, gender, disability and race issues and the impact of violence.

4.5. Key Direction 2: Provision of Services to those who need them

Despite the high incidence of violence experienced by women with disabilities, services are frequently non-existent, inaccessible or inadequate to meet the needs of women with disabilities escaping violence, or at risk of violence.

Disabled survivors of domestic violence often have a difficult time escaping from their assailants. They are often financially dependent on these individuals, and the physical means of fleeing assault, such as accessible transportation, are often unavailable on short notice. Even if a disabled woman does escape, she may have great difficulty finding an accessible refuge. Facilities without ramps and lifts, TTY’s; attendant care; interpreter services; information in alternative formats; appropriately trained staff and so on, are not an option for women with disabilities. A woman with quadriplegia, in such an instance, could expect to find herself referred to a hospital or institution. In addition, disabled women with children who flee violent situations run the risk of losing custody of their children because authorities may question their ability to care for them alone (WWDA 1998, 1999, 2001).

Women with disabilities who are escaping domestic violence have found that their attempts to access appropriate services difficult because, historically disability agencies have been seen to be the appropriate organisation to assist a woman with a disability rather than a domestic violence service (WWDA 1999). The main barriers to women with disabilities in accessing refuges and other domestic violence services can be grouped into the following areas: communication; information; attitudes; physical environment; accessing/using a service; and, skills of workers.

There have been several reports which highlight the fact that women with disabilities are the group with the greatest level of unmet need in relation to the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) services in Australia (see for example: Hardy, J (1994) Time to Change; AGPS, Canberra). This is despite the fact that all SAAP services in Australia have a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 to provide services for people with disabilities. The DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate in the provision of goods, services or facilities against people on the basis that they have, have had, or may have, a disability. The Act also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis that one of her or his associates may have a disability. The Act requires that people with disabilities be given equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to a full range of social, political and cultural activities.

In relation to information, people with disabilities must have access to information in appropriate formats about the programs and services they use. There is very little information targeted to women with disabilities with regard to services, including violence and other SAAP services. Research undertaken by Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has found that many women with disabilities are unaware that services exist, or how to reach them. Information is rarely available in braille; large print; audio cassette; electronic based; Compic; in Plain English and so on; nor does it address some of the particular issues women with disabilities may face. Clearly, detailed information which is specifically targeted to women with disabilities must be developed. Any information developed must be done so in consultation with women with disabilities.

In relation to the ‘Provision of Services to those who need them’ broad aims currently in the Discussion Paper, WWDA recommends that they be re-worked as follows to ensure inclusiveness of women with disabilities.

Current Wording: Improve women’s access to culturally appropriate services and information which have been designed, developed and provided to reflect the diversity of women and their experiences, with specific attention to Indigenous women’s needs.
Suggested Wording: Improve access for women to culturally appropriate, inclusive and accessible services and information which have been designed, developed and provided to reflect the diversity of women and their experiences, with specific attention to the needs of Indigenous women and women with disabilities.
Suggested New Aim: Ensure that the development of culturally appropriate, inclusive and accessible services and information occurs in consultation with women and is based on the identified needs of women.

Current Wording: Ensure there are a range of responses to women experiencing violence, and children and young people living with violence including crisis and long-term support, and integrated programs across health, community services and justice.
Suggested Wording: Ensure there are a range of responses to women experiencing violence, and children and young people living with violence including crisis and long-term support, and accessible, inclusive and integrated programs across health, community services and justice.

Current Wording: Ensure there are safe accommodation options, including support for women to remain in the home.
Suggested Wording: Ensure there are safe, accessible accommodation options, including the supports required to enable women to remain in the home, if they so choose.

WWDA would further recommend that the Women’s Safety Strategy include specific aims in relation to the collection of data. Currently, there is no data collected by violence services, including crisis and long-term support services, and other SAAP funded services, on women with disabilities.

4.6. Key Direction 3: Protection for women from experiencing violence

The Discussion Paper makes specific reference to the role of the criminal justice system in responding to violence against women.

A major issue for many women with disabilities when reporting acts of domestic violence and seeking protection orders is credibility. Very powerful myths suggest that women with disabilities should not be believed when they report any form of violence against them. It is also quite clear that in many instances service providers will focus on the disability rather than the abuse (New South Wales Department for Women 1996). This is borne out in anecdotal evidence from women with disabilities. For example – a woman interviewed as part of a research project in New South Wales in 1996 said that when the police arrived after she had been assaulted by her partner and left bleeding in the gutter, the first question they asked her was whether she had taken her medication (New South Wales Department for Women 1996). Focusing on the disability rather than the abuse has far reaching implications for women with disabilities who have been subjected to violence. It can result in their disabilities being ‘blamed’ for the abuse, in inappropriate service provision, and in not being believed. Lack of credibility only contributes to further vulnerability for women with disabilities (WWDA 1998, 1999).

Chenoweth (1997) makes the point:

‘Even when violent crimes are known to have been committed against women with disabilities, the process of bringing them to the attention of the criminal justice system is akin to facing one brick wall after another’.

Clearly, the Women’s Safety Strategy must include, in its aims to provide protection for women from experiencing violence:

  • The need to address the barriers that prevent women with disabilities from accessing the criminal justice system;
  • The need for training of law enforcement agencies and personnel to the issue of violence against women with disabilities;

In relation to the Key Direction ‘Protection for women from experiencing violence’, one of the current aims is to:

Review and assess current legislation and its operational implementation to adequately protect women from domestic violence and sexual assault. Provide a focus in this review of how the legislation and its application works for women from diverse backgrounds including Indigenous women and women from non-English speaking backgrounds.

WWDA strongly recommends that this aim be expanded to include women with disabilities, ie:

Review and assess current legislation and its operational implementation to adequately protect women from domestic violence and sexual assault. Provide a focus in this review of how the legislation and its application works for women from diverse backgrounds including women with disabilities, Indigenous women, and women from non-English speaking backgrounds.

4.7. Key Direction 4: Performance: Monitoring and Evaluation of the Women’s Safety Strategy

The Discussion Paper identifies that evaluation of the Women’s Safety Strategy will occur through four key strategies:

  • Development of Key Performance Indicators;
  • Development of a ‘scorecard’ for all Government Departments to measure their progress;
  • Monitoring undertaken by the ‘Ministerial Leadership Group’; and
  • Development of a consistent approach in the collection of information.

‘Development of a scorecard for all Government Departments to measure their progress’ means little unless performance is tied to agency funding. Clearly, there must be some incentive for agencies to progress the Women’s Safety Strategy.

The Discussion Paper makes a point of stressing that violence against women is a community issue. The Paper identifies a key strategy in preventing violence against women will be through ‘enhancing community ownership and responses to violence against women’. Despite this, the Paper suggests that monitoring of the Strategy will be undertaken by the ‘Ministerial Leadership Group’. Clearly, there must be provisions within the Strategy to enable the ‘community’ to monitor and evaluate the Strategy and its progress. Specifically, WWDA urges the South Australian Government to ensure that women with disabilities are actively involved in the Women’s Safety Strategy Review processes, through direct participation and consultation.

The Discussion Paper identifies ‘Development of a consistent approach in the collection of information’ as a key monitoring and evaluation strategy. This assumes that the information currently exists – but it just needs a ‘consistent approach’ in its collection. This is not the case in relation to data collection relating to violence against women with disabilities. As has already been discussed in this paper, there is no data collected on any aspect of violence against women with disabilities in Australia. Services, including violence services and other SAAP funded services, do not collect data on women with disabilities. For example, the South Australian SAAP National Data Collection Annual Report 1998-99, provides data on Indigenous Australians and people from a Non-English Speaking Background, but does not provide any data, nor indeed, any reference to, people with disabilities.

There are a number of measures which should be considered in the monitoring and evaluation of performance of the Women’s Safety Strategy, including:

  • Establishing Baseline Data against which future performance can be compared. Such data would need to include specific disability and gender indicators;
  • Setting Goals and Targets for the performance measurement period. Targets should require an improvement in the level of current performance. Targets should be measurable and attainable;
  • Establishing Sampling Procedures for ongoing monitoring of performance;
  • Developing processes to enable meaningful community participation in monitoring and evaluation.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: About Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) was incorporated in 1995 and evolved from the National Women’s Network within Disabled People’s International Australia (DPIA), where it had been operating as an un-funded Network for some eight years. WWDA was initially established by a group of women with disabilities who felt that their needs and concerns were not being acknowledged or addressed within the broader disability sector, or the women’s sector in Australia.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is a federating body of individuals and networks in each State and Territory of Australia and is made up of women with disabilities and associated organisations. The national secretariat is located in Tasmania, an island State of Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities. It is the only organisation of its kind in Australia and one of only a very small number internationally. WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability. WWDA seeks to ensure opportunities in all walks of life for all women with disabilities. In this it aims to increase awareness of, and address issues faced by, women with disabilities in the community. WWDA seeks to ensure the advancement of education of society to the status and needs of women with disabilities in order to promote equity, reduce suffering, poverty, discrimination and exploitation of women with disabilities. WWDA is unique, in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation.

WWDA addresses disability within a social model, which identifies the barriers and restrictions facing women with disabilities as the focus for reform.

The aim of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is to be a national voice for the needs and rights of women with disabilities and a national force to improve the lives and life chances of women with disabilities.

The objectives of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) are:

  • to actively promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life;
  • to advocate on issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia; and
  • to seek to be the national representative organisation for women with disabilities in Australia by: undertaking systemic advocacy; providing policy advice; undertaking research; and providing support, information and education.

More information about Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) can be found on WWDA’s website at: www.wwda.org.au

Appendix 2: The Position Of Women With Disabilities In Australia – A Snapshot

Women with disabilities are, from the government record, one of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in Australia. Analysis of data available from a variety of sources, gives us the following information about women with disabilities in Australia.

    • There are 3.6 million people in Australia with a disability, making up 19% of the total population. The proportion of males and females with a disability is similar (around 9.5% each) although it varies across age groups.

 

    • There are 1.8 million women with disabilities in Australia. There are more women with disabilities in the older age groups, most notably those 79 years onwards.

 

    • Of the 1.1 million people with a profound or severe core activity restriction, 616,000 are women with disabilities (56%). Among older people with disabilities, the rates of severe and profound disability are markedly greater for females.

 

    • Over 57% of women with disabilities living in households need assistance to move around or go out, shower or dress, prepare meals, do housework, undertake property maintenance or paperwork, or communicate.

 

    • Women with disabilities are less likely to be in paid work than other women, men with disabilities or the population as a whole. Men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities. In 1997-98 Commonwealth Government funded open employment services assisted over 31,000 people with disabilities in their efforts to find and maintain jobs on the open labour market. 66.6% of those assisted were men with disabilities. Annual Census of Commonwealth Government funded open employment services show that the percentage of women with disabilities being assisted by these services has continued to decline.

 

    • Women with disabilities’ participation rates in the labour market are lower than men with disabilities’ participation rates across all disability levels and types. Women with disabilities are less likely than men with disabilities to receive vocational rehabilitation or entry to labour market programs. Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services statistics for 1994/5 indicate only 35% of referred clients were female with women more likely to be rehabilitated to independent living (45%) than vocational goals (36%).

 

    • Women with disabilities earn less than their male counterparts. 51% of women with a disability earn less than $200 per week compared to 36% of men with a disability. Only 16% of women with a disability earn over $400 per week, compared to 33% of men with a disability.

 

    • There is a higher incidence of incapacity (10.2%) for unemployed females in Australia compared to unemployed males (7.6%). This applies consistently across all age groups. Unemployed females have a one-third greater incidence of incapacity than unemployed males. The higher incidence of incapacity for unemployed females is more pronounced for those under 50 years age, and especially for 30-39 and under 21 year olds.

 

    • Women with disabilities are less likely than their male counterparts to receive a senior secondary and/or tertiary education. Only 16% of all women with disabilities are likely to have any secondary education compared to 28% of men with disabilities.

 

    • Women with disabilities are substantially over-represented in public housing, comprising over 40% of all persons in Australia aged 15-64 in this form of tenure. Women with disabilities are less likely to own their own houses than their male counterparts.

 

    • Women with disabilities pay the highest level of their gross income on housing, yet are in the lowest income earning bracket. Some women with disabilities pay almost 50 per cent of their gross income on housing and housing related costs. Over 20% of women with disabilities living in public housing are dissatisfied with the service they receive from their State or Territory housing authority.

 

    • Women with disabilities spend more of their income on medical care and health related expenses than men with disabilities.

 

    • Women with disabilities have a consistently higher level of unmet need than their male counterparts across all disability levels and types. Women with disabilities are less likely to receive appropriate services than men with equivalent needs or other women. 60% of recipients of disability support services funded under the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement are men with disabilities.

 

    • Women with disabilities are less likely than women without disabilities to receive appropriate health services, particularly breast and cervical cancer screening programs, bone density testing, menopause and incontinence management. In Australia, 41% of women with disabilities with core activity restriction aged 70-75 have never had a mammogram. Almost 30% of women with disabilities aged 70-75 with core activity restriction have never had a pap smear. Of those women with disabilities aged 70-75 core activity restriction who have had a pap smear, 39% have not had regular pap smears (every 2 years). These figures are likely to be much higher for women with disabilities with different disability types (eg: intellectual, cognitive, psychiatric, deaf/hearing impaired, blind/visually impaired) across all age groups.

 

    • Girls and women with disabilities are more likely to be unlawfully sterilised than their male counterparts. Between 1992-1997 at least 1045 girls with disabilities in Australia have been unlawfully sterilised. Comparisons with other data sources suggest that the true number is much greater, perhaps by a factor of several times.

 

    • Regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or class, women with disabilities are assaulted, raped and abused at a rate of at least two times greater than non-disabled women. Statistics indicate that 90% of women with intellectual disabilities have been sexually abused. 68% of women with an intellectual disability will be subjected to sexual abuse before they reach 18.

 

    • Women with disabilities are more likely to be institutionalised than their male counterparts.

 

    • Women with disabilities are often forced to live in situations in which they are vulnerable to violence. They are more likely to experience violence at work than other women, men with disabilities or the population as a whole.

 

  • Access to telecommunications is a major area of inequity for women with disabilities in Australia. A national survey in 1999 found that 84% of women with disabilities are restricted in their access to telecommunications. 49% of women with disabilities are restricted by issues of affordability; 76% by poor design of telecommunications equipment; 20% by lack of training; 20% by lack of information; and 18% by discrimination.

(Sources: Anderson 1996; Frohmader 1998; WWDA 1998; WWDA 1999, ABS 1999, ABS 1993, AIHW 1998, AIHW 1999, AIHW 2000, Currie 1996, Brady and Grover 1997, Temby 1997, Cooper and Temby 1997, Horsley 1991, Binstead 1997, Rutnam, Martin-Murray and Smith 1999, Warburton et al 1999).