Assaults on Disabled Under-reported, Unpunished

Many disabled Victorians are being repeatedly assaulted and exploited because authorities do not have the appropriate power or expertise to investigate their cases, experts warn.

State watchdogs say countless numbers of vulnerable people are facing even greater risk because current gaps in the system are preventing alleged crimes from being properly examined.

In one recent case, residential staff witnessed an elderly woman being assaulted by a younger male resident, but police could not establish enough evidence to take action because of the victim’s inability to speak.

In another incident, an intellectually disabled 50-year old woman was not interviewed over an alleged rape because she refused to have her parents in the room, which police said was a requirement for interviewing ”a child”.

Acting Public Advocate John Chesterman has urged the government to give his office greater powers to investigate adults at risk.

Mr Chesterman said the system could improve significantly by creating a ”clear non-police contact point” where members of the community register concerns about alleged abuse or other mistreatment.

”The level of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect suffered by at-risk adults, including people with cognitive impairments and mental ill health, is a serious social problem in Australia,” he said.

The plight of Victorians with mental illnesses and disabilities is expected to be highlighted in a report tabled in Parliament next week.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has also raised concerns, and is confidentially surveying disabled people and their carers about the barriers faced when reporting crime.

Commissioner Kate Jenkins said about 100 people had been interviewed so far, and several recurring themes had emerged. For instance, some victims feared they would not be believed, or were worried about retribution from their carers. Others believed police would simply view them as an unreliable witness and therefore not pursue the case anyway.

”An assault is an assault, no matter what, but many people aren’t reporting,” Ms Jenkins said.

Victoria Police Inspector Ian Geddes admitted that dealing with intellectually disabled victims was challenging, but police had introduced better training and procedures.

Part of the problem is also current guardianship laws, whereby the Public Advocate only has power to examine alleged mistreatment involving people who are formally placed under its guardianship, or being considered for guardianship. However, many people who are at risk might not be under a formal guardianship order.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert Clark said the government was considering legislation to improve guardianship and adult protection.

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Health, Mental Health, Medical, Legal, Corrections, Justice System

Farrah Tomazin

The Age

Date published:
Sun 13th Oct, 2013