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National disability organisations call for an overhaul

National disability organisations call for an overhaul of domestic violence laws to protect disabled people

Three national disability organisations have joined together to urge the Government to make comprehensive changes to protect disabled people from abuse and domestic violence.

CCS Disability Action, IHC and the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) say that the risk of violence to disabled people is far higher than it is for their non-disabled counterparts. According to the 2013 Disability Survey, disabled people aged between 15 and 44 were 4.2 times more likely than non-disabled people of being a victim of violent crime in the previous 12 months.

In their joint submission to the Better Family Violence Law Consultation, the organisations have outlined ways the risk of violence can be reduced.

IHC’s Director of Advocacy, Trish Grant, said that consultation was timely in that the disability sector and government were already focused on the unacceptable levels of violence experienced by disabled people and the lack of legal and other protections available from statutory and community organisations. Given those difficulties the joint submission promotes the need for better safeguarding for disabled people and recommends strengthening the provisions of the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act, along with establishing an Office of the Public Advocate.

“A Public Advocate with authority and resources to investigate and respond to concerns about the abuse, neglect or exploitation of disabled people is urgently needed,” said Trish Grant.

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The joint submission also recommends changes to the Domestic Violence Act to make it clearer that relationships between disabled people and their paid support workers/carers can be covered.

“Domestic violence can – and at times has been – perpetrated by paid support workers and carers; those responsible for very personal care. This includes staff working in residential services or a person’s own home. Currently, the law is unclear about the relationship between disabled people and these support workers or carers. Even with the best of intentions we know that boundaries can be crossed in the relationship between paid staff and a disabled person which– at times can lead to psychological, emotional, physical and or financial abuse,” said Joy Gunn, Acting Chief Executive of CCS Disability Action.

Ms Gunn said the organisations are recommending that the courts be given the discretion to decide if the paid employment relationship is actually a “close and personal one” which would then see alleged abuse dealt with as a domestic violence issue. Currently, courts do not have this discretion.

Acting Chief Executive for the Disabled Persons Assembly, Waddy Wadsworth, said the higher risk of violence and abuse of disabled children and adults is completely unacceptable and more must be done to make legal protection accessible to them.

“Making information and legal processes more accessible as well as addressing negative assumptions about disabled people is key to reducing the higher rate of violence and abuse. Sometimes the Police and prosecutors assume disabled people will not be able to give evidence. The Solicitor General’s guidelines discourage the Police from taking a prosecution to court if they think a conviction is unlikely. As a result, perpetrators of domestic violence against disabled people can feel like they can act with impunity.”

The submission recommends more training for the Police, lawyers and judges as well as changes to the Solicitor-General’s Prosecution Guidelines to make the Police more likely to take people who abuse disabled people to court.


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