Amend the Family Violence Bill 2016 to be inclusive of disability specific domestic arrangements;
Immediately expand the Crisis Services Scheme to ensure people living in disability specific domestic arrangements can access the scheme;
Develop systematic measures for collecting violence data. Data must be disaggregated by disability and gender across a range of fields including the health system, education, the NDIA, and ACAT. Data collection must be sensitive to disability specific forms of violence;
Invest in violence prevention programs. A good starting point is training NDIA planners to understand the value of consumer control and choice over their lives and living arrangements in protecting them from violence. People with disabilities must be supported to use their NDIS packages in the living arrangements of their choosing;
Ensure the Reportable Conduct Scheme is inclusive of children with disabilities. As outlined by the Australian Cross Disability Alliance, this should involve:
- Ensuring that “accidental” conduct is not excluded from the scheme;
- Ensuring that all organisations providing support to children are covered including disability services which may primarily be for adults yet also provide services to children with disabilities;
- Including restrictive practices as reportable conduct, as it is conduct that may cause harm and requires particular oversight and monitoring yet may not be considered “criminal”.
What is currently being done?
Disability led responses
- None. There are currently no programs funded by the ACT government controlled by and for people with disabilities to prevent and respond to violence against people with disabilities. Advocacy for Inclusion was funded to provide one small, short term project which has ended.
Disability specialist responses
- One. The Crisis Services Scheme is targeted at women with disabilities, however is currently only intended to service a very small number of women, is limited in scope, and there is no clear plan for significant expansion of the service.
- The ACT Prevention of Violence against Women and Children Strategy acknowledges disabled women as a target group.
- A reportable conduct scheme for all children was announced in early June. A disability lens must be applied to this.
People with disabilities are at a significantly higher risk of violence than people without disabilities, yet programs targeted at preventing and responding to this are severely lacking. In addition to traditional ideas of sexual and physical assault, people with disabilities experience distinct forms of disability based violence, such as withholding of disability aids or supports, inciting fears or paranoia of a person with mental illness, leaving a person reliant on support in uncomfortable or humiliating situations, medication mismanagement and use of restraint. A major issue is the absence of systematic and streamlined data collection in the ACT which captures the prevalence of violence among people with disabilities. Targeted and effective policies and programs cannot be developed without having a clear picture of the extent and nature of the problem.
The Family Violence Bill 2016 provides victims of violence in domestic relationships a “greater level of protective response”. The Act does not recognise the household relationships common among people with disabilities as “domestic” and consequently excludes them from this “greater level of protective response”. For example, relationships in disability supported accommodation (such as group homes) and informal arrangements such as home-sharing. People in these relationships are not covered by ACT domestic violence legislation.
Whilst these relationships are not covered, people with disabilities living in supported accommodation are at even higher risk. In these settings they often live with one or more co-residents on a permanent basis, interact daily, build highly personal relationships, share living space, groceries, and jointly own furniture. They also share this space with paid support workers or staff for up to 24 hours a day. These are undoubtedly domestic relationships, which can become violent. Violence occurs between co-residents and is also perpetrated by support staff against people with disabilities. People with disabilities can become unsafe in their own homes.
The Crisis Services Scheme in the ACT is a new program targeted at responding to women with disabilities experiencing domestic violence (as defined in the current legislation) and sexual violence. However, we remain gravely concerned that this scheme is limited in capacity and scope, with the service assisting only five women in the 2014-15 financial year. As acknowledged at the time the scheme was designed, there remains a gap in crisis response services for women and men with disabilities who are subjected to non-sexual violence in disability specific relationships, which do not fall within the services current scope and relevant legislative definitions. The scheme must ensure women with disabilities experiencing violence in disability specific settings which do not fall neatly within current definitions of domestic and sexual violence have pathways to safety.
The Act must be amended to extend protection to people with disabilities living in disability specific arrangements. The domestic violence law in NSW covers disability specific home settings and general share-house arrangements. This has promoted greater recognition of domestic violence in disability specific settings and better response capacity by service providers and government, including appropriately targeted programs and resources. We recommend that the ACT Government consider Section 5 of the NSW Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 and its application to ACT legislation. Specifically:
“For the purposes of this Act, a person has a "domestic relationship" with another person if the person:
(d) is living or has lived in the same household as the other person, or
(e) is living or has lived as a long-term resident in the same residential facility as the other person and at the same time as the other person (not being a facility that is a correctional centre within the meaning of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 or a detention centre within the meaning of the Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987), or
(f) has or has had a relationship involving his or her dependence on the ongoing paid or unpaid care of the other person.”
In addition to a lack of targeted response programs, Advocacy for Inclusion is concerned by a lack of understanding among NDIA staff about the significance of one’s living arrangement as a factor in their vulnerability to being victimised, particularly disability specific arrangements over which the person with disability has limited control. We have been involved in some cases where the NDIA is pressuring a person with disability to pool their funds and move into a living arrangement shared with another person with disability, despite their history of perpetrating violence against several previous co-residents. Forced cohabitation is a strong contributor to domestic violence for people with disabilities yet it is being actively pursued as a preferred solution by the NDIA, the ACT Government, and various community individuals.
The ACT Government must recognise that control and choice for people with disabilities is an important violence prevention strategy. Where people with disabilities have no control over where and with whom they live, this encourages unhealthy power dynamics and violent relations, and it traps people with disabilities in violent households which they cannot escape because their access to adequate support is tied to their co-resident.
Violence against children with disabilities in service settings is also a key concern. Last year a serious breach of human rights in an ACT school was brought to light when it was found that a child with disability was being locked in a cage made of pool fencing. Advocacy for Inclusion has endorsed the Australian Cross Disability Alliance’s submission to the consultation regarding a Reportable Conduct scheme, which outlines measures required to ensure the safety of children with disabilities.
 Victim Support ACT. (2015). Annual Report 2014-15. Retrieved from: http://www.victimsupport.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/796509/151148-Victim-Support-AR-2014-15-FA-Screen.pdf
 ACT Disability and Community Services Commissioner. (2014). Developing an ACT crisis response to women with disabilities who experience domestic violence and/or sexual assault. http://www.hrc.act.gov.au/res/Final%20Report%20-%20Crisis%20Services.pdf