Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA): Submission from to the Tasmanian Government’s Options Paper: ‘Safe at Home: A Criminal Justice Framework for Responding to Family Violence in Tasmania’



The Options Paper ‘Safe at Home: A Criminal Justice Framework for Responding to Family Violence in Tasmania’ was developed by the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Industrial Relations (DJIR) in response to the announcement by the Attorney-General, the Hon. Judy Jackson MHA, in September 2002, of the establishment of separate Family Violence restraint order legislation to be introduced into the Tasmanian Parliament in 2003. This document is WWDA’s response to the Options Paper ‘Safe at Home: A Criminal Justice Framework for Responding to Family Violence in Tasmania’. Copyright WWDA September 2003.


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:
(a) to actively promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life;
(b) to advocate on issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia; and
(c) to seek to be the national representative organisation for women with disabilities in Australia by:

  • (i) undertaking systemic advocacy;
  • (ii) providing policy advice;
  • (iii) undertaking research; and
  • (iv) providing support, information and education.

NB: More information about WWDA, including its major roles and functions, is included in Appendix 1.


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, 208). 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 19% 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 2 for information regarding the status of women with disabilities in Australia.


Section 3: Violence Against Women with Disabilities – The Context

3.1. Incidence

Research into the incidence of violence against women with disabilities is extremely limited and fragmented, and often does not distinguish either the nature of the disability, gender differences and differences between children and adults. 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). Much of the literature on violence against women with disabilities that does exist appears 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, 11). 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, 10). 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, 23).

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.

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.

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).

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).


Section Four: The ‘Safe At Home Options’ Paper

Note: Due to the short time frame for the development of responses to the Options Paper, WWDA has not been able to respond to every Discussion question that was included in the Options Paper. For the purposes of this submission, WWDA has elected to concentrate on addressing two main areas: the ‘Definition of Relationship’; and the ‘Definition of Violence’. WWDA believes that these two areas set the scope of the legislation and are therefore of significant importance to women with disabilities.

4.1. Definition of Relationship

The ‘Safe at Home’ Options Paper identifies the need to introduce a definition of family which is sufficiently broad to cover ‘spousal relationships, intimate personal relationships (including dating relationships and same sex relationships), family relationships (with a broader definition of relative) and informal care relationships (between a person and a carer which takes place for no fee or reward).’

The Paper also recommends that the term ‘family violence’ be used instead of the term ‘domestic violence’ in order to take into account the diverse range of relationships that should be covered under the new legislation

Whilst WWDA supports the introduction of the term ‘family violence’ it is concerned that the proposed definition does not go far enough in recognising the diverse types 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 & Community Care 1998, Qld Women’s Consultative Council 1996). The reports highlight the need for States and Territories to amend and expand appropriate legislation to protect women with disabilities from domestic violence as they experience it.

The ‘Safe at Home’ Options Paper makes the point that ‘Any definition of these terms in Tasmania would need to take into account both the type of violence being described and the diverse range of ‘significant’ relationships in which such violence occurs (e.g. same sex and guardianship).’ However, in suggesting a definition of ‘family’ the Paper proposes that the definition cover spousal relationships, intimate personal relationships, family relationships, but only informal care relationships.

WWDA is concerned that by restricting the definition to encompass informal care relationships only, many women with disabilities will not be covered by the definition. For example, women with disabilities who live in group homes in Tasmania would not be covered by the proposed definition. Deinstitutionalisation policies place strong emphasis on the rights of people with disabilities, which include the right to participate fully as members of the community. Such opportunities include having the fundamental rights enjoyed by all citizens: that they should be able to feel safe, to be free from exploitation and sexual abuse, to have access to public services and to be able to make their own life choices.

The ‘Safe at Home’ Options Paper identifies ‘informal care relationships’ as those that apply to domestic support and personal care relationships (provided without fee or reward). This raises an obvious dilemma. For example, people who receive the Carer Payment or the Carer Allowance would not be covered under the proposed definition because they are in receipt of a financial payment solely on the basis of their role as a carer. Clearly, a financial payment would be considered a ‘reward’. The consequences of this could see a vast number of people being excluded from being covered by the Family Violence legislation, including:

  • disabled children whose parents receive the Carer Payment or Carer Allowance;
  • disabled adults who are cared for by their spouse and/or relatives (who receive a carer payment for this role);
  • elderly people who are cared for by their spouse and/or relatives (who receive a carer payment for this role);

Women with disabilities who live in group homes and similar ‘domestic’ settings, have a right to be protected from violence and abuse. Group homes in Tasmania are administered by the Tasmanian Government. There is currently no legislation in Tasmania which covers women with disabilities who live in group homes and experience violence, or are at risk of experiencing violence. It is understood that Tasmanian group homes have ‘in house’ policies that cover the area of ‘abuse’. Clearly this is not good enough.

The definition of ‘family’ sets the scope of the proposed Tasmanian Family Violence legislation. Women with disabilities have the right to the same protection by domestic/family violence laws against violence in their domestic situations as the rest of the community. Accordingly, the definition of ‘family’ should be amended to reflect this.

Recommendations:

The proposed definition of ‘family’ be expanded to encompass the range of domestic/family settings in which women with disabilities live.

The description and definition of care relationships be expanded to include paid care in the range of domestic/family settings in which women with disabilities live.

The Tasmanian Government recognise that women with disabilities have the right to the same protection by domestic/family violence laws against violence in their domestic situations as the rest of the community.

4.2. Definition of Violence

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:

4.2.1. 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.

4.2.2. 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’.

4.2.3. 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.

4.2.4. 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.

4.2.5. 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.

4.2.6. 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.

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

The ‘Safe at Home’ Options Paper identifies the different forms which family violence takes, including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, social and economic abuse. The Paper also suggests that a broader definition of violence be utilised which includes:

  • Causing or threatening to cause a personal injury to a person, or the abduction or confinement of a person;
  • Causing or threatening to cause damage to a person’s property;
  • Behaving in an harassing or offensive way towards the person;
  • Stalking;
  • Economic abuse (e.g. such as the controlling the family finances or property in a manner which renders the other person unreasonably dependent on the other);
  • Abduction or confinement;
  • Specific mention regarding injury to animals;
  • Intimidation or harassment;
  • Provisions for offences occurring if a person counsels or procures someone else to commit an act of domestic violence;

WWDA supports the introduction of a broad definition of violence which recognises physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, emotional, social and economic abuse. However, in relation to women with disabilities, the proposed ‘elements’ to be included in a definition do not appear to adequately address psychological/emotional abuse, and neglect.

Recommendations:

Any definition of ‘family violence’ must be inclusive of the forms of violence as experienced by women with disabilities.

The wording of the Family Violence legislation must be specific enough to encompass the circumstances which may be experienced by women with disabilities.


Appendix 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 was established in 1994, and became incorporated in 1995. 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. 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 is unique, in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is 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:
(a) to actively promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life;
(b) to advocate on issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia; and
(c) to seek to be the national representative organisation for women with disabilities in Australia by:

  • (i) undertaking systemic advocacy;
  • (ii) providing policy advice;
  • (iii) undertaking research; and
  • (iv) providing support, information and education.

WWDA is managed by a National Management Committee, which is made up of women with disabilities and which is elected each year at the Annual General Meeting. The members of WWDA are actively involved in the decision making processes of the organisation. All programs and activities conducted by WWDA are in direct response to the identified issues and concerns of women with disabilities in Australia. WWDA is a registered charitable organisation with Public Benevolent Institution status which means that donations made to the organisation over $2 are tax deductible.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is at the forefront of support and advocacy, with, and on behalf of, women with disabilities in Australia, both individually and collectively. WWDA’s major roles, functions, and activities include (but are not restricted to):

  • Provision of direct practical assistance and advocacy to individual women with disabilities;
  • Provision of systemic advocacy for women with disabilities collectively;
  • Research and policy development;
  • Project development and implementation;
  • Addressing the issue of empowerment and women with disabilities, both individually and collectively;
  • Quality Improvement

NB: An extensive amount of information about WWDA and women with disabilities is available on WWDA’s website at: www.wwda.org.au).


Appendix 2: The Status 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 & Grover 1997, Temby 1997, Cooper & Temby 1997, Horsley 1991, Binstead 1997, Rutnam, Martin-Murray & Smith 1999, Warburton et al 1999).

The principal source of population data for disability comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability Surveys, which have been conducted in 1981, 1988, 1993 and 1998. Due to the ABS user pays system, the only material which is easily available from these surveys is that which has already been published, and the published material does not necessarily provide the depth of information required. For example, very little disability data collected by the ABS contains gender breakdowns. Similarly, the major publications published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ‘Australia’s Welfare’ and ‘Australia’s Health’ contain data on people with disabilities in Australia, but tends to focus on age breakdown and disability type rather than gender breakdowns.

The limited statistical information on gender and disability which is available is spread over a wide range of services and sources, and has not been collected together by governments to give a cohesive picture of the status of women with disabilities.