Saturday, March 17, 2018
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Position Statement: Mandatory Reporting and Adult Protection


Despite good intentions, overprotection of people with disabilities can make them more vulnerable to violence by denying their agency and control over their own lives and bodies. Mandatory reporting is a form of overprotection, which infantilises people with disabilities and denies them the right to decide for themselves how they wish to respond to victimisation.


People with disabilities are at significantly higher risk of violence than the general community. In addition to traditional concepts of sexual and physical assault, they experience distinct forms of disability based violence, such as withholding of essential disability aids or supports, inciting fears or paranoia of a person with mental illness[1], leaving a person reliant on support in uncomfortable or humiliating situations[2], and use of restraint. Robust, meaningful prevention and response strategies must be implemented to address this.


Traditionally, a standard response to the safety of people with disabilities has been to sequester them from the community and to become overprotective. More recently there have been suggestions that adults with disabilities should be protected by mandatory reporting systems, similar to child protection responses. Advocacy for Inclusion is concerned with four aspects of adult protection schemes such as mandatory reporting.


  1. The assumption that risk of violence is inherent in a person’s impairment

Overprotective responses assume that disabled people are inherently vulnerable due to impairment, thus warranting a different response that is often separate from the criminal justice system. A number of social and structural issues place people with disabilities at risk of violence,[3] which are often overlooked in favour of bureaucratic, individualistic responses such as adult protection schemes.


For example, people with disabilities report not being taken seriously when they disclose violence by support workers[4]. The lack of disability support available has also seen people with disabilities forced to cohabit with other people with disabilities who use violence against them, in order to pool support funds; violence by co-service users is a widely under-recognised problem.[5][6][7]Social drivers of harm such as poverty, a lack of housing and social exclusion also place people with disabilities at higher risk, and prevent their access to pathways to safety.[8]


  1. Little evidence that mandatory reporting results in improved safety outcomes

There is little evidence that mandatory reporting improves safety of victims. For example, disability support providers often struggle to identify violence and abuse[9], particularly as there is a lack of training available to assist providers to recognise and respond to violence, and to prevent violence from happening in the first place.[10] In order to promote the safety of people with disabilities, a stronger focus on prevention is needed. Important prevention measures include addressing structural disadvantage, supporting people with disabilities to have control over where and with whom they live via the provision of individualised support and affordable housing, and support practices that respect disabled people’s views and autonomy.

  1. False appearance of “doing something”

Mandatory reporting gives the appearance of enhancing accountability; however, support providers have considerable discretion over whether they consider an assault serious enough to report to authorities.[11] Support workers have a great deal of power over clients in service settings, and violence may be hidden and legitimised in the form of restrictive practices, which would likely remain unaddressed by a mandatory reporting scheme. It is a band-aid, quick fix solution. It gives the false impression that something is “being done”, whilst failing to address the contextual factors that place people with disabilities at risk, or providing real measures such as funding to crisis services to aid pathways to safety.

  1. Mandatory reporting may deter victims from seeking help

Mandatory reporting may deter victims from seeking help if they know that speaking to someone will result in an intervention that will be out of their control.[12] Victims of violence often suffer emotional distress and feelings of powerlessness. They may be frightened about the very real risk of repercussions of taking action and reporting. It is now well understood, for example, that women are at greatest risk in the period immediately after leaving a violent partner.


A more appropriate response is one which involves supporting a person to feel safe to disclose and to be in control over any resulting process. This is achieved by listening to the person and taking them seriously, and validating their experiences. Despite common misconceptions, people with cognitive and communication impairments are largely able to participate in responding to violence, if they are appropriately supported and accommodated. It may involve connecting them with an appropriate counselling service such as rape crisis or domestic violence services. It can also involve supporting them in practical ways to find a pathway to safety, such as crisis accommodation or alternative disability support arrangements, or simply providing information and ensuring that you are available to the person when they are ready to take action. Victims with disabilities should be supported to report to the police if they choose, and to access the justice system on an equal basis with the general community.

Importantly, disability and violence sectors are under-resourced; services must be adequately resourced to respond when someone with disability raises a concern about violence.

Mandatory reporting is another tool in overprotection of people with disabilities, which offers little substance in terms of prompting safety and ultimately disempowers rather than protects.

[1] Hassouneh-Phillips, D., & Curry, M. (2002). Abuse of women with disabilities: State of the science. Rehabilitating counselling Bulletin, 45(2), 96-104

[2] Nixon, J. (2009). Domestic violence and women with disabilities: Locating the issue on the periphery of social movements. Disability and Society, 24(1), 77-89.

[3] Hollomotz, A. (2011). Learning difficulties and sexual vulnerability: A social approach. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

[4] Robinson, S., &  L. Chenoweth. (2011). Preventing abuse in accommodation services: From procedural response to protective cultures. Journal of Intellectual Disability, 15(1), 63-74.

[5] Cambridge, P., Beadle-Brown, J., Milne, A., Mansell, J., & Whelton, B. (2010). Patterns of risk in adult protection referrals for sexual abuse and people with intellectual disability. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 24, 118-132

[6] Hollomotz, A. (2011). As above

[7] McCarthy, M., & D. Thompson. (1996). Sexual abuse by design: An examination of the issues in learning disability services. Disability and Society, 11(2), 205-218.

[8] Fawcett, B. (2008). Disability and violence. In B. Fawcett and F. Waugh (eds.), Addressing violence, abuse and oppression: Debates and challenges. Abingdon: Routledge.

[9] Jenkins, R., & Davies, R. (2006). Neglect of people with intellectual disabilities: A failure to act? Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 10(1), 35-45.

[10] Robinson, S., &  L. Chenoweth. (2011). Preventing abuse in accommodation services: From procedural response to protective cultures. Journal of Intellectual Disability, 15(1), 63-74.

[11] Murray, S. & Powell, A. (2008). Sexual assault and adults with a disability: Enabling recognition, disclosure and a just response. Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 9.

[12] Australian Law Reform Commission and NSW Law Reform Commission. (2010). Family violence: A national legal response. Retrieved from