Data needed to measure extent of violence against people with disability

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Posted 1 month ago by Rebecca St Clair

“People with disability have a right to strong safeguards for services they rely on..." (Source: iStock)
“People with disability have a right to strong safeguards for services they rely on..." (Source: iStock)

Data is an important element for measuring the scale of abuse and violence faced by people with disability in Australia, but there isn’t enough available, researchers say.

After recent high profile reports of the abuse and neglect of people with disability, including the death of Ann Marie Smith in Adelaide, South Australia, a spotlight has been placed on the types of violence that people with disability experience. 

Dr Georgina Sutherland, a Senior Research Fellow from the University of Melbourne, says that the violence experienced by people with disability is often more severe and current data underestimates the true extent of violence experienced.

“The violence is often more severe and can include experiences of violence and abuse that are common in the community (physical and sexual assault), as well as violence that is specific to the experience of disability, such as the denial of treatment, limited access to support services, and violation of bodily autonomy including reproductive coercion. 

“People with disability may also be exposed to a wide range of perpetrators across residential, employment and service settings.

“In Australia, there is no nationally representative survey that comprehensively captures violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability. 

"Where data on disability and violence does exist (like in the Personal Safety Survey from the ABS), prevalence estimates are known to substantially underestimate the size of the problem because the survey doesn’t provide a safe and accessible way for people with disability to participate and report violence.”

Dr Sutherland adds that data helps with understanding the extent and impact of violence being experienced and is essential to developing policy to help safeguard people with disability from abuse.

“Data is important for understanding the extent, nature, dynamics and impacts of violence.

“[It is vital for] understanding risk factors, who experiences violence, who perpetrates it and where it happens. Is also vitally important for targeting prevention and response efforts.

“It is an impossible task for governments to implement a proportionate, effective and evidence-informed response without a comprehensive picture of violence and abuse against people with disability.”

New safeguarding protections introduced for Victorians with disability

The Victorian Government has introduced new safeguards for people with disability under the new Victorian Disability Worker Commission. 

The new measures commenced earlier this month and are part of the Victorian Government’s zero-tolerance approach to neglect and abuse of people with disability.

They were developed in response to recommendations made by the Victorian Parliament’s 2016 Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services.

The independent Victorian Disability Worker Commission will now uphold safety standards through the new Disability Service Safeguards Code of Conduct for all Victorian disability workers.

This will be in addition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s (NDIS) Quality and Safety Standards.

The new standards will protect Victorians living with disability, regardless of service funding arrangements.

Victorian Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, Luke Donnellan, says, “Ensuring the safety of Victorians with disability is incredibly important, that’s why today we’re taking it a step further by delivering new protections that will even further strengthen their quality of care and safeguards.

“Our new safeguards will support Victoria’s workforce to lead the way in providing high-quality disability services, regardless of funding arrangements for disability workers.”

Led by Victorian Disability Worker Commissioner, Dan Stubbs, the Commission will act on complaints about the conduct of disability workers. The Commission will also have the power to ban any worker who is unfit to deliver disability services. 

Commissioner Stubbs says that the new safeguards will build a safer disability sector.

“People with disability have a right to strong safeguards for services they rely on. That’s why we’re building a stronger, safer disability sector in Victoria.

“As Commissioner, my role will be to provide the strongest safeguards in Australia for disability services.

“At a time when people with disability are more isolated and vulnerable than ever, we will support and protect people’s basic right to safety, and their right to live free from harm and abuse.” 

The Commission will also support the Disability Worker Registration Board of Victoria to oversee the registration of Victorian disability workers which commences in July 2021.

The Board has decided to delay worker registration by one year because of the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce.

To find out more about the new measures, visit Disability Worker Regulation Scheme website.

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