Damning report on abuse
January 28, 2011
THE investigation and prevention of the alleged rape and abuse of disabled or mentally ill Victorians in state-run and private care is woefully inadequate, according to Victoria’s Public Advocate.
An Office of the Public Advocate report – to be released today and relying on data mostly gathered over the past four years – documents 86 cases involving the abuse of people with cognitive disabilities or mental illness.
It reveals that state-funded support systems, including the criminal justice system, are failing to help properly to find justice for these victims.Advertisement: Story continues below
While over a third of these cases involve allegations of sexual assault, very few resulted in police intervention. Only one case involved the prosecution and jailing of a perpetrator.
In other figures to be released today, the OPA reveals that it helped 272 disabled or mentally ill people make allegations of abuse to the police sexual abuse unit last year, which is double the number of cases recorded a decade ago.
Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge has welcomed the report, saying it highlighted the failure of the previous Labor government over 11 years to deal with violence against Victorians with disabilities.
”Instead of Labor’s failed approach, we need a justice system that better supports people with disabilities, services that respond quickly to alleged abuse and a change of approach to ensure services work together,” Ms Wooldridge said.
Public Advocate Colleen Pearce has called on the Bailleau government to commit to improve the way Victoria’s criminal justice system and the Department of Human Services deals with ”shocking” cases of abuse, including sexual assault.
She said vulnerable victims were falling through gaps in existing support services or ending up in facilities in which they were exposed to harm.
”There have been reports on this issue going back to 1988 and it is an indictment on the community that we have not been able to find better ways of dealing with this issue,” Ms Pearce told The Age.
In late 2009, The Age revealed that police were investigating allegations that disabled women had been sexually assaulted by staff at two privately run but state-monitored Supported Residential Services.
Changes to improve the oversight of SRSs introduced by the Labor government last year, but yet to become active, did not go far enough, Ms Pearce said.
In the past six months, Ms Pearce- who as Public Advocate is appointed by the state government to protect the rights of people with a disability- has received 10 abuse complaints.
In three quarters of the cases detailed in the OPA’s report, Violence against People with Cognitive Impairments, the victims were women. In 30 of the 86 cases, the abuse involved allegations of assault levelled against the victim’s carer.
Ms Pearce said staff at disability support services, state-run care homes, private facilities and sexual assault centres ”are often not skilled up to deal with” disabled victims of violence, and as a result many victims’ cases were not properly pursued.
People working at these places needed better training, she said.
Ms Pearce also urged the government to provide alternative accommodation for disabled people who make allegations of assault against a carer or fellow resident.
And she said the criminal justice system was often a hostile or unresponsive environment for disabled people looking to make a complaint.
”I think we need to increase the training provided to police, particularly around making sure that people with cognitive impairments are treated fairly and the evidence is in fact collected,” she said.