Abuse, neglect and exploitation
People with disability, particularly those with intellectual disability, dementia or other cognitive impairment, are more likely to experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation than the general population.
OPA works to help our society identify, prevent and respond to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. Our recent focus has been on improving agency and organisational responses to violence and abuse, and on better understanding violence against women with disability.
Overall, OPA’s work has found that abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability is often inadequately responded to. The reasons for this include problems with accessing the justice system (especially for people with cognitive impairment or communication impairments), inadequate training for support staff in relation to identifying and responding to situations of violence and abuse, and communication difficulties between the disability and family violence sectors.
OPA takes a zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse against people with disability and works to change culture and practice in the disability services sector and educate the community about the issues.
All OPA reports and submissions are available to download from the Publications section of this website.
In 2015, OPA responded to requests for submissions to four inquiries relating to violence and abuse against people with disability.
In December 2014, the Victorian Ombudsman announced her inquiry into the reporting and investigation of violence and abuse.
In May and October 2015, the Victorian Parliament's Family and Community Development Committee called for submissions to stage 1 and 2 respectively of its inquiry into abuse in disability services.
In March 2015, the State Government's Royal Commission into Family Violence called for responses to an issues paper which included reference to violence against people with disability.
In April 2015, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs sought submissions to its inquiry into violence and abuse against people with disability in institutional and residential settings.
Most of OPA’s submissions contain case study information of a confidential nature.
At this stage, only the submissions to the State Government's parliamentary inquiry into abuse in disability services are able to be made publically available.
OPA continues to raise the issue of abuse of people with disability, bringing it into the light and proposing changes to systems and supports that will help reduce the number of people with disability experiencing violence.
Interagency Guideline for Addressing Violence, Neglect and Abuse (IGUANA)
Responding to violence quickly, effectively and respectfully is critical to the wellbeing of those affected, and to their willingness to seek help in the future.
In 2013, OPA produced the Interagency Guideline for Addressing Violence, Neglect and Abuse (IGUANA), a good practice guideline for organisations, staff members and volunteers working with adults who are at risk of violence, neglect and abuse.
IGUANA clearly states what action should be taken if a staff member or volunteer suspects, witnesses or receives a report of violence, neglect or abuse.
IGUANA was developed in collaboration with a range of statutory agencies and service providers in the disability, mental health, sexual assault and family violence sectors in Victoria following forums in 2012 and 2013. Many of these organisations signed up, committing to integrate IGUANA into their responses to violence, neglect and abuse.
'The Prevalence of Elder Abuse Among Adult Guardianship Clients', co-authored by OPA staff Lois Bedson, Dr John Chesterman and Dr Michael Woods, was featured in a special edition of the Macquarie Law Journal, focussing on 'Elder Abuse: Legal, Regulatory and Policy Challenges' (Volume 18, 2018).
The research analysed OPA data and found elder abuse prevalence rates among OPA guardianship clients of 13 per cent in 2013-14 and 21 per cent in 2016-17. The article also discusses the significant role guardianship plays in current elder abuse response systems. The article is available to download from the Macquarie University website (external link).
The Deputy Public Advocate, Dr John Chesterman, produced the report, Responding to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect: Improving our protection of at-risk adults, as part of a Churchill Fellowship.
The report looks at four adult protection schemes operating in overseas jurisdictions to explore how Victoria’s protection of at-risk adults might be improved. Its six recommendations include ensuring police have the expertise to investigate and prosecute crimes against at-risk adults and establishing clear responsibilities for receiving reports of, and investigating concerns about, the abuse and exploitation of at-risk adults.
OPA's report Violence against people with cognitive impairments examines 86 cases of people with cognitive impairments who had experienced violence. It reveals that people of all ages with various cognitive impairments are subjected to physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and impairment-related violence, financial abuse and neglect. The report’s recommendations include strategies to improve the ability of the disability and family violence sectors to collaborate for the benefit of people with disability experiencing family violence.
Women with disability are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Research estimates that between 40 and 70 per cent of women with disabilities have experienced violence at some point in their lives.
Voices Against Violence
The Voices Against Violence research project investigated the nature of violence against women with disability in Victoria, working to build and share understanding of this unacceptable but often hidden issue. This project was undertaken as a between OPA, Women with Disabilities Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria.
The research findings are based on true stories of Victorian women with disability. The impacts of violence, the varied forms it can take and its diverse settings are documented. The importance of services that work together effectively to support women with disability, and protect and promote women’s rights to safety and justice is highlighted.
- enabling and ensuring the participation of women with disability on decision-making, planning and advisory bodies across government and in all portfolio areas relating to violence against women with disabilities
- promoting whole of government responses to these issues
- promoting professional development and training around violence against women with disabilities
- developing and enhancing referral pathways and networks to facilitate appropriate and tailored responses to women with disabilities experiencing violence.
Voices Against Violence Paper One: Executive Summary provides an overall description of the project and presents the key findings and recommendations from across the six other project reports. This paper is available to download from the Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV) website.
Go to Women with Disabilities Victoria's website>
OPA’s contributed two reports to the project. The first, Voices Against Violence Paper Four: A Review of the Public Advocate's Records on Violence Against Women with Disabilities, reviewed 100 files of women with a disability from OPA’s Advocacy and Guardianship Program and revealed women’s stories and voices otherwise unheard. These records are an important source of data on the lives of women with cognitive impairment (for example, intellectual disability or dementia) who are unable to make decisions for themselves.
Almost half of the women whose files were reviewed had reportedly experienced violence. This figure is particularly stark considering that violence against women is under-reported. The actual prevalence of violence against clients of Advocacy and Guardianship Program is likely to be higher. The most common forms of violence experienced by a range of perpetrators were psychological violence, physical violence and controlling behaviour.
OPA’s second report, Voices Against Violence Paper Five: Interviews with Staff and Volunteers from the Office of the Public Advocate, documented the collective knowledge of 25 OPA staff and volunteers with experience identifying and responding to violence against women with disabilities.
The paper identifies:
- positive initiatives developed by OPA to address and prevent violence against women with disabilities
- themes emerging from their work (including risk factors, prolonged experiences of violence, and prevalence of economic abuse)
- their experiences advocating for women with disabilities in a variety of service and justice systems (what is working well and not so well)
- avenues for further research and better data collection.
The report recommends improvements to the justice system, including professional development for solicitors about economic abuse and enhanced police capacity to investigate and prosecute economic abuse. The report also makes recommendations in relation to OPA’s data collection and practice tools.
Action Plan Consultation Framework for Addressing Violence against Women and their Children in 2012
OPA’s submission to the Action Plan Consultation Framework for Addressing Violence against Women and their Children in 2012 raised the importance of taking a mainstream approach to disability issues. We were concerned that the particular needs of women with disabilities would not be met by the proposed plan. For example women with disabilities have difficulty accessing family violence services.
To ensure the needs of women with disabilities are met OPA recommended the Action Plan set specific, measurable goals within each element of the plan in relation to identifying and meeting the needs of women with disabilities, including women with cognitive impairment and mental illness.
Sexual assault of women in supported residential services
The OPA report, Sexual assault in Supported Residential Services: Four case studies presents four of the many cases concerning the sexual assault or harassment of women with disability which have come to the attention of the Public Advocate. The report’s recommendations centre on ways the department responsible for regulating Supported Residential Services could support the sector to better respond to allegations of sexual assault.
In response to these recommendations the department developed a checklist for services to improve their responses to sexual assaults. They also developed a protocol with the Victorian Centres for Sexual Assault to facilitate access to specialised support for Supported Residential Services residents.