“Everyone has the right to feel safe at home” … except people with disabilities.
The places where people with disabilities live are simply not covered by domestic violence legislation, including group housing, kinship care arrangements, and women who live with ex in laws so they can keep getting disability supports.
Recent plaudits for the Homeshare scheme also fail to mention that these arrangements are not covered by domestic violence legislation in the ACT. So, while it’s a great model when it works well, it also restricts the ability of police and community services to respond when something goes wrong and to provide safe alternatives for victims.
Just over the border in NSW these living arrangements are covered by domestic violence legislation. If something goes wrong the police, victim services, and community and domestic violence responses can all be used to assist the victim to be safe. In the ACT victims must use common assault laws, but usually nobody bothers to involve the police anyway. People with disabilities are expected to just accept violence as part of their lives.
When a person with disability is unsafe in their home there is no alternative. Advocacy for Inclusion has worked with numerous people who want to be safe, but there are no other housing or safety options and no law to back up the need to act swiftly. If it’s categorised as domestic violence most of the responses like refuges or funds for hotels become unavailable.
Suitable accessible housing for people with disabilities doesn’t exist, and with no ACT government long term disability housing construction plan many wait up to five years for purpose built properties. Even then they are told to move into another group arrangement as this provides a cheaper alternative for the disability support system.
For most people with disabilities their experiences aren’t even recognised as violence, much less domestic violence. Rather: “they must learn to get on with each other”, or “must learn to modify their behaviour”. A couple of decades ago women were also being told “don’t upset him”, or “keep him happy” as a way of avoiding violence and abuse. The community has moved on and now recognises how inappropriate it is to blame women who are victims of violence. If you have a disability, however, you are told that the violence is your fault and you must learn to adjust your behaviour to avoid it.
This dismissal by government and community of violence perpetrated against a person with disability, by someone who lives with them in a long term domestic relationship, disregards the impact of that violence. It normalises it and denies access to systemic domestic violence responses including moving to a place of safety and trauma counselling. It also tells people with disabilities that they don’t matter.
The ACT government has aligned a great deal of ACT legislation with NSW, but for some reason it has failed to provide people with disabilities the right to be safe in their own homes. Instead it continues to actively support and promote models of living which stand outside domestic violence law and which are proven, despite the best intentions of everyone involved, to result in high levels of violence and abuse.
Extra resources announced by the Chief Minister to address domestic violence and to support victims of domestic violence are welcome, but they are cold comfort for people with disabilities who remain outside the scope of such measures because they continue to be outside of the scope of domestic violence law.
Everyone has the right to feel safe at home including people with disabilities.