Violence against women response services

This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum series held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre, Melbourne, on 24 March 2015.  Other sessions at this forum included:

  1. Influencing government: telling the disability advocacy story
  2. Q&A with the Office for Disability



This session overviewed how disability combines with gender to increase the risk of experiencing violence. The session introduced a range of support services available, and emphasised the importance of listening to women with disabilities.

As a number of State and National inquiries into abuse of people with disabilities are happening, this is an important time for the disability advocacy sector to recognise how disability combines with gender – through systemic and individual support work.

Jen from Women with Disabilities Victoria, facilitated panel presentations from:

  • Giang and Czenia from Berry Street Child and Family Services
  • Elisa Whittaker from the Women’s Legal Service Victoria
  • Diane from the Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault
  • Rodney from the Men’s Referral Service & No to Violence
  • Jax Brown, Advocate and Women with Disabilities Victoria Gender and Disability Workforce Development trainer


Attendees were asked to consider the role of the disability advocacy sector in responding to violence against women with disabilities.

In question time disability advocates were interested to discuss how they can work with support services, how to tap into the DHHS Disability Family Violence Crisis Response funding, and the need to give women with disabilities access to information about violence.

Forum participants were provided with a resource pack containing:


Contact Information:

Berry Street Northern Family & Domestic violence Service
T: 9450 4700

Women’s Legal Service Victoria
T: 8622 0600 W: Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) T: 5222 4318
W: (Barwon and Wimmera)
W: (statewied)

Men’s Referral Service & No to Violence
T: 1300 766 491




It is my great pleasure now to hand over the podium over to Jen Hargrave from Women with Disabilities Victoria, I will leave all the introductions to her.

Thank you Robyn, I might start by saying DARU have been fantastic to work with in putting together this forum. Thank you all for coming and being part of this important and very timely discussion and particularly loads of appreciation to our panel members who have been so generous in giving part of their time in their really busy days to be here. As I’ve said we’ve got Giang and Czenia from Berry St Family and Children’s Services who work in the family violence team, Elisa from Women’s Legal Services, Rodney from No to Violence, Diane from Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault or CASA and Jacquie, or Jax’s Brown Disability Advocate.

This is a great opportunity for us to speak directly to the panel who hold a wealth of expertise in working in violence response and prevention. I look forward to introducing them in more detail shortly but first I think it’s good if we introduce the topic and start by acknowledging violence and abuse is a really common experience in our community. It may have affected us personally and the people we work with and it can touch us in a range of different ways.

If you’re feeling like you need to take a break at any stage please feel free to leave the room. If you would like to speak to someone today, three of the panel have kindly offered to speak to you during lunchtime. I will ask if you can say hello and wave your hand. Can you say your names as well so people can track your voices.

I’m Czenia.

I’m Giang.

I’m Diane.

The other option is if you’re not wanting to speak to someone right now in your information packs that you all have there is a fact sheet, on the back, it has contact numbers. It’s good to remember some of these numbers can be contacted in a crisis. Also, you can call these numbers for confidential advice or to seek outreach. Many services provide outreach, which is a crucial service for many people with disabilities.

This year violence against people with disabilities has risen to the front of public consciousness through the Fairfax and Four Corner’s report. In the past, our community worried about the safety of people with disability in public on the street. There was the worry about stranger danger but now our community can see the risks that people with disability face from some service providers, in our homes, in our day services, in our transport and education services. Some of our members of Parliament are responding to this community awareness. We currently have an Australian Senate Committee Enquiry into disability abuse and a Victorian one about to begin and we have the Victorian Ombudsman investigation into disability abuse happening.  The disability sector is interested too. We have the NDIS Zero Tolerance Project and the NDIS Safeguard Consultation happening.

At the same time there is another community awareness dawning and this one is violence against women. This one has many similarities. In the past women were told to avoid strangers but now as the media is starting to report violence against women more in particularly family violence, we’re all starting to understand the issue much more. Again, some of our members of Parliament are responding. Yesterday Qld Senator Larissa Waters told the Australian Senate as she delivered her committees interim report into domestic violence that 1 in 3 women over the age of 15 have reported experiencing family violence in Australia. She shared the horrific statistic that up until this year one Australian woman a week is killed by her partner or ex-partner. This statistic has in fact changed this year and gone up to two women a week.

In Victoria, we have a Royal Commission into family violence under way. Just in matter of using terminology, today the terms domestic violence and family violence can be used interchangeably for our purposes.

While these two huge social issues are dawning on our community’s awareness there is still something about disability discrimination allowing for violence against people with disabilities and also at the same time gender discrimination allowing violence against women. There is one issue that’s still not really at a high level of consciousness and that’s about how those two things can intercept. About how women with disabilities can of course, experience disability-based violence but also experience violence against women in all its force. If you combine those two factors, the risk increases expedientially.

This is not to say men with disability don’t experience violence because they certainly do and all violence is unacceptable. We need to listen to and support anyone who does experience violence but to able to respond appropriately it’s important that we understand the causes and to understand that disability discrimination mixes with gender discrimination just as it does with things like racism, ageism and homophobia. The most common forms of violence against women is family violence and women with disability do experience family violence. It’s important to the community to understand that we can’t always assume that all families are a positive support.

In 2014 and 2013 three important and thorough studies into violence against women with disabilities were released and the findings from them are available in a snapshot here in this position statement which is available on the Women’s with Disabilities Victoria website. At the moment, we don’t have a word version on the website, Pdf is searchable but if you contact me, I can get you a copy of our word version.

These studies I’m talking about show starkly high rates of violence against women. Despite the rates, many women who disclose violence are not believed and supported. Let’s talk to our panel about how women with disabilities can be believed and how they can be supported.

Now we’re not short on talent here but we are short on time so we’re going to have to move quickly and save our questions until the end. I’m going to try to keep and run a tight ship so I will ring a bell when it’s time for each speaker to wrap up. I will give you a minutes warning.

As a general introduction to the panel, these speakers have been chosen specifically today because they represent services that have demonstrated a commitment to providing access for women with disabilities or men with disabilities. We’ve also invited Jax’s for many reasons. She is a prominent and well respect disability advocate. She has had experience in providing violence prevention programs through the Women with Disabilities Victoria Gender and Disability Workforce Development Program and because we believe that in speaking about women with disabilities, it’s crucial to hear from women with disabilities.

In hearing the panel’s presentations let’s think about what’s the role of disability advocacy here, how does violence against women with disability fit into our work. So for our first guest it’s Giang and Czenia from Berry St, Victoria’s largest child and family services. I might let you introduce your roles if you’re happy to. I will hand it over. Thank you.

Giang and I are from the Northern Family and Domestic Violence Service at Berry St. We both work in our Intec service and I also do court support down at the Broadmeadows Court and Heidelberg. The Northern Family and Domestic Family Service is part of an integrated family violence service, which in that includes the 24-hour service, which are the Safe Steps Family and Domestic Violence Response Centre. Part of that is also NCARS, which is an after-hours response service and that, provides 24 hour face to face and 24-hour phone support to women who experience domestic violence. Berry St specifically do intake as I said and outreach. We provide telephone support for the most part and that’s responding to police referrals and taking incoming calls from women who have experienced domestic violence and secondary consultation to any services that have got clients that are identifying with experience of family violence and clients may also be allocated for outreach casework.

Court support is also part of our integrated service. Our particular service goes to Heidelberg, Broadmeadow Support and the Network Justice Centre in Collingwood. Over there you will find community legal services that clients can also access and other core workers that clients can be referred to. Berry St and Anglicare also have the mother child and adolescent family violence counselling that clients can be referred to.

Berry St practice principles and all other family violence services out there, at least in Australia, this is framework that we fit under. It’s the basic principle that safety from violence is a human right, everyone deserves to be safe from violence. Our understanding is that we are a women’s only service that’s because 95% of victims or survivors of family violence are women and children. What we believe is the person using violence is always responsible for their own actions. There is no victim blaming in the work we do. It’s a woman’s right to stay in a relationship. Often women will say it’s not the relationship they want to leave, they just want the violence to end. We have a lot of support services even the law supports that statement that everyone deserves to be safe from violence.

Generally, the first questions we will ask a woman is to do a risk assessment of what’s been going on for her. We start from what was the most recent event of violence and with women, it can range between a verbal incidents to more extreme physical violence. What is the (inaudible – coughing) violence can indicate what the level of risk is for a woman, if it’s escalating that’s also very important. And of course, if children are present the Family Violence Act states that exposing a child to family violence and abuse is in itself abusive. Even though it’s directed to a child, a child experiencing that in the home meets the definition of family violence.

How safe does she feel is a really important question to ask. A woman’s own assessment of her safety is the most important. Of course, we use the comprehensive risk assessment framework tool or known in our field as the CRAT and that asks a range of questions and gives us a snapshot of what’s going on for the woman.

Within our risk assessment and working with women with disabilities, we also ask things such as – what about your health or disability, how is the abuse and violence impacting on your health, any medical issues that can be dangerous if they’re neglected, does anyone control or change what you’re trying to say and within that is anyone trying to take things from you, restrict your access or restrict you from say leaving your home.

These are really important questions for us to ask because like we said because of the volume of work we’re expected to undertake a lot of the work we do is over the phone. We also use the National Relay Services when that’s relevant but these questions are obviously….when we’re talking to a woman over the phone it’s not immediately obvious that she has a disability so asking these questions are really important in engaging her risk because obviously the risk to people with disabilities can be very different.

When we’re speaking to anyone who has experienced domestic violence, we always want to talk to them about safety planning which is an ongoing process. Every time you speak to a woman, their risk may have changed so by helping them to maintain their safety we can be a bit collaborative and speak to other people who are in their support system and speak to them about any other strategies they have used.

They’ve already been experiencing it, maintaining their own safety but perhaps needing their own tips.

Often women who are experiencing violence in the home whether it’s from a carer or otherwise often if there is someone coming into the home to provide home help and things like that, those are the people who are in the best position to assist the woman on a day to day basis without having the person using violence being aware of what’s going on. That obviously puts the carer or the person delivering the home care services in a precarious position but often that is the safest way to access the woman.

In terms of services they can use obviously, 000 is the best service that people can call if there is a problem. Safe Steps because they’re a 24-hour service clients can be referred to crisis accommodation or refuge through there. At Berry St, we can also make referrals to refuge.

We’re actually not a crisis service, we’re a short term or to long-term support service. But if a woman is in immediate danger, she needs to call 000 or call Safe Steps. If she doesn’t want to approach the police she doesn’t have to, it might not be the safest option for her. The Safe Steps Program can provide a crisis update and refuge referral.

Safety planning with a disability focus, I know we’re running out of time. We have to take in consideration we are and all the other family violence organisations are the point of contact for women. Her own mobility and care and communication all needs to be taken into account. These aren’t straightforward and they are about what the woman needs and wants and it’s about collaborating with her about how she wants to negotiate these small hurdles.

There are other ways that we use safety plan with women to suit her situation. Things like programing emergency numbers or talking to a friend about using a code word so if she texts the sun is shining today that could often mean I’m in danger please call 000 for me. That might often be the easiest way or the safest way for her to get support immediately.

There is obviously collaboration like we said again and again. It’s about seeking her permission and it’s always about what she wants, about talking to external services and perhaps putting in an alert to the crisis services that might be there to support her.

If she has an intervention order, we don’t really have time to go with those but we can help support her to make application and speak to the police about what’s going on for her.

(inaudible – paper shuffling) a woman is the expert of her own and children’s safety doesn’t matter if she is a woman with disabilities or not. At the end of the day even if we don’t believe she is safe she has managed to keep herself safe till that point so we have to have faith that she is autonomous and she is the best person to assess her own risk.

Every time we do have contact with a woman who is experiencing family violence, these times are crucial to keep reinforcing safety and risk and checking in and see how it’s going over time if you’re having regular contact.

This is our last slide. What this speaks this is from Building the Evidence Report, it came out in 2008, it’s a while ago now. One of the outcomes of that is the most beneficial responses to women with disabilities experiencing violence is to involve strong collaborative partnerships in which expertise is shared between these and other service sectors. It’s about you working with us, working with the woman. Thank you.


We’ve left some brochures at the front as well as the Women Help cards for the North Region.

And the DV Vic I don’t know if you guys are aware of them, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria and we have left some order forms. They have a lot of different resources that you can order as well as the Women’s Health in the North because we’re a service in the North and there is different services depending on which area of Melbourne or Victoria that you’re from. But those help cards list the different courts and different family violence and crisis services in each LGA.  Thank you.

Terrific thank you so much Giang and Czenia. Let me say too I have seen first-hand the fantastic work Berry St does with women and children with disabilities. Now we’ll turn our minds to legal supports and we have Elisa who is a senior lawyer and outreach working at the Statewide Women’s Legal Service. Thank you.

Hi, I’m Elisa, I’m the outreach coordinator at Women’s Legal Service Victoria. I’d just like to start out by talking about what our service is all about. It’s a state- wide community legal service obviously for women. We provide advice, information, referral and in some cases representation on going. We also have a legal education unit, we provides legal education in terms of resources and seminars and workshops and what have you. We also have a policy unit, which works on issues in relation to women, family violence and relationship breakdown.

The areas of law that Women’s Legal Service specialise in are family law, family violence and victims of crime assistance matters before VOCAT. We operate a telephone advice line four times a week, worker telephone enquiries. Any workers engaged in community support can contact our service on the phone lines that I’ll put up again, if they’ve got any issue in relation to a client. We try and assist straight away but we guarantee that we’ll get back within 24 hours if you have a client who has a legal problem in relation to one of the areas of law that we practice in.

We also operate a clinic at our William St office every Thursday morning from 9.30 to 12.00 o’clock where women can just drop in for advice. We have link virtual outreach that’s my area. That is a program that we have been developing in conjunction with family violence agencies in the North of Melbourne, Goulburn North East and currently extending to other parts of the State, whereby we provide legal advice using Skype to family violence agencies and community health centres who assist their clients to access our advice through Skype. It’s a service that’s…well we hope it’s expanding. We’re looking for funding at the moment but it’s been a great way for us to expand our reach. I might touch on that a little later because we’re always looking for other organisations who may wish to partner with us to provide that service to their clients in a more accessible way.

We also do on going casework in relation to family law and family violence matters so assisting some of the people who make contact with us on an ongoing basis whilst their legal matters are on foot. We also have a website and the website has fact sheets that you can look at and download, print off, some of which I have brought along today. I will put some of those out for people to look at.

Now  I’ve been asked today to look at applying for an intervention order. The first thing you need to consider is what sort of intervention order you’re talking about. There is two Acts in Victoria that deal with violence. They are the Family Violence Protection Act and the Personal Safety Intervention (inaudible – coughing) Act.

I’ll focus today on family violence because that’s the focus of our forum today. The first thing we need to consider is whether the parties are family members. Robyn has organised some written material that I think everyone might have and it includes the meaning of family members in relation to the Family Violence Protection Act. When we’re looking at whether a person may apply for and obtain a Family Violence Intervention Order Act there are three main questions – is the applicant or the AFM, the AFM is an affected family member, are they a family member of the respondent? The second question is – has the respondents behaviour constituted family violence and the third question is is the respondent likely to continue to behave in this way or do so again?

You’ll see that the meaning of a family member is quite wide under the Family Violence Protection Act. It includes a spouse or domestic partner or an ex-spouse or domestic partner. It includes someone who’s been in previously or currently in an intimate personal relationship. It includes relatives or people who have previously been relatives. It includes a child who normally resides with the person or a child of the person who previously did so. Intimate relationships aren’t necessarily sexual relationships. It includes a person regarding, regards or regarded as being like a family member. That is really quite a wide definition.

The court will look at social and emotional ties, it will look at whether or not the people live together or whether there was a reputation in the community, that they were in a family like situation. It’s also cultural recognition, it looks at the duration of the relationship or the frequency of the contact. It looks at financial dependants or interdependent. It looks at the issue of provision of care whether it’s paid or unpaid. It looks at the provision of sustenance or support. Any one of those things may bring the relationship into one that’s considered a family member. It’s really a very broad definition in the Act.

The Act also provides a specific example of a relationship between a person with disability and the person’s carer, which may over time come to approximate the type of relationship that might exist between family members.  There is also the ability within the Act for an order to be made against a person who’s an associate of the person who has perpetrated the violence. The Act also says the order can be made protecting an associate of the family member who may not be a family member themselves but who has been exposed to the family violence.

It’s quite broad and a little bit complex but you’ve got the written information there. If you’ve got any questions, I’m happy to talk about that later. I should’ve had that up when I was talking, sorry. So yes looking at all these issues as to whether or not it’s family wide relationships. Certainly not what the traditional idea of what a family is, much more broader. Specifically in drafting the Act, the issue of carers and disabled people was one of the issues that the Parliament sought to cover in the Family Violence Protection Act.

Next, I’d like to look at the second step of whether or not there has been family violence. As with family members, the definition of family violence is very wide as well. It covers physical or sexual abuse, it covers emotional and psychological abuse, it covers economic abuse. The Act goes into quite a lot of detail about what might be economic abuse but it includes things like coercing a person to relinquish control of their finances. It includes things like disposing of someone’s property or jointly owned property against that persons wishes and without a lawful excuse. It includes things like preventing access to joint financial assets for meeting household expenses preventing someone from seeking or keeping employment, coercing a person to sign a power of attorney, coercing a person to sign a contract for finances or for goods and services or for a contract of guarantee. Economic abuse is within the Act very, very wide and that includes also any other threatening, coercive, or controlling and dominating behaviour.

In relation to children as Czenia and Giang touched on, if children have heard or witnessed or been exposed to the effects of family violence, they can be covered by an intervention order. If there is a child in the household, the court must look at whether or not those children in the household need the protection of the Family Violence Order.


Okay I need to be quick. That includes things like the police coming after an incident, the children may be traumatised by that. The children may be traumatised by seeing a sight that needs cleaning up after an incident. Also, the other issue that I wanted to touch on there was things like intentionally damaging property, intentionally hurting an animal, depriving a person of their liberty, or any other sort of controlling offence. It doesn’t need to be criminal behaviour at all.

Next, the intervention orders can be sought by police or people can seek an intervention order from the Magistrates Court themselves. They can seek orders which prevent the other party from doing all those things up there including being at the home even though they have ordinarily been living at the home. They can be prevented from coming to the home, they can be prevented from workplaces, schools of children, they can be prevented from any telephone or contact whatsoever, other postings on internet etc., or getting anyone else to do so.

A breach of an intervention order is a serious criminal offence and the courts do treat it very seriously. They commonly imprison people for breaching an intervention order. The police according to the code of conduct, must act on a breach of an order and if they don’t do so it’s really important that you are aware that you can contact the Victoria Police Family Violence Liaison Offices who are at all the 24 hour stations and who will assist to ensure that’s done if it’s not done first off.

I had lots of other things to say but I think I better close. I have bought along as I said some fact sheets, I have also brought along some cards, which I am happy for you to take away which have details of our phone advice service and our clinic. Just a last plug for our link virtual outreach, if anyone would be interested in talking about partnering with our organisation to bring clients legal advice via Skype I would be very happy to talk to you.


Thank you Elisa for that really important information. Elisa touched on the Personal Safety Act. Now where that’s relevant is if you’re needing an intervention order for a relationship that’s not family like and if you’re interested in looking that up, I encourage you to Google it. It’s easy to find and quite easy to read for legislation, it’s plain English. I have seen that used between residents in shared accommodation as well. Now let’s turn our minds to sexual assault. We have here Diane who is a counsellor advocate from Barwon CASA, thank you Diane.

Hello again, Well the good news is I had time to go into work and print out my PowerPoints which each of you had a copy. The not so good news is I left the memory stick inside my computer and I decided it wasn’t worth going back for it in case I missed my train. I work in Geelong, we are a Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault and we have offices in both Geelong and Horsham. We cover the Wimmera area as well as in Geelong and the surrounding areas.

Just a little bit about Barwon CASA. Firstly, have most of you heard of CASA’s? It always interests me, I’m getting quite a few nods. We do a lot of public speaking around the place and sometimes people are very familiar with Centre Against Sexual Assaults or CASA’s and sometimes they’re not so. Hopefully it’s okay if I tell you a bit about it even if you have heard it before.

CASA’s themselves are everywhere in Victoria and we’re predominately funded by the Department of Health and Human Services now. The different CASA’s some do sexual assault only and some do as is the case of Barwon CASA, we do both family violence and sexual assault services.

Just a bit about Barwon CASA – we’ve been operating since 1978. As we’ve heard from the previous speakers, our work on every level is based on being gendered and strength based. Within counselling, we do a lot of work from a therapy kind of guidelines.

What the gendered stuff means is as we’ve mentioned before we know that most violence occurs in the family home and most violence is perpetrated by men against women. We know that’s a generalisation but that’s certainly what the figures hold up. We are a victim only service so even though we do see men, if we come to know that they’re actually perpetrating violence against women or children we won’t see them within our building. That’s partly because we want our buildings to be safe places for victims and we want to take a strong stand against violence by men.

As we’ve heard before we kind of have that structural belief around violence. Most of it is around power and control and that affects both men and women but particularly women as the reports that have been sighted before particularly women with disabilities, probably often have more the effects of power control can come into their lives from many different forms.

We’ve got 17 counsellors, I’m one of them, mostly part time or close to full time. We come from all kinds of disciplines. I’m a social worker but we’ve got phycologists, people from different disciplines. We also do our own after hour’s service. We have people on roster every night of the week so if there’s a sexual assault in Barwon or Wimmera somebody will attend the hospital to support the person who has been recently assaulted.

CASA themselves have got a state-wide after hours service that you can ring 24 hours a day to get information about what you might do to help somebody either who has been assaulted recently or a long time in the past.

Outside there’s these little green cards which on the back, I know they’re in really small font and I apologise for that but all the CASA’s across the State and their phone numbers are listed on there. There is also a CASA forum website that you can access that information.

At Barwon CASA and quite a few other CASA’s across the State we also work with children who have in our jargon we call it are displaying problems sexualised behaviours. That is the children who…we work with people under 15. If they’re sexually acting out against other children we will kind of run therapeutic diversion programs to try and stop that from occurring.

We also as I mentioned do counselling for family violence, for women and children under 16. That’s to do with our funding source. We do know that men also experience family violence but for us that’s what the funding guidelines state.

As I’ve mentioned we do quite a lot of secondary consultation and I am myself and a couple of other people are predominately on intake. We would take sometimes three, sometimes six phone calls a day from different agencies or schools or parents, from anywhere asking about a situation in relation to sexual assault or family violence. We guide people as to whether it’s worth them making a referral for counselling or whether they might like to go off to the Crisis Care component within Barwon is run by Manefa (?) Family Services. We will send people there for the crisis response in relation to family violence or any other referral. Feel free to ring either our CASA or other CASA’s for that kind of specific information to do with your own circumstance.

We also run what’s called the SAP’s program, which is Sexual Assault Prevention Program in secondary schools. That program was first written by CASA House, which is another CASA but we have adopted that last year in a pilot program to be run in special schools because one of the things we’ve learnt along the way is sometimes students participating in special schools or alternative education, need a bit more clarified ways of learning about particularly consent. One of the things that we know about the children who do sexually offend against other children is it’s often to do with they’re not really understanding consent or not really picking up cues about what might be okay or not okay. That’s what that program is designed to do. Based at Year 9, we have different schools we target each year and certainly, that program is run in many Melbourne and regional schools as well.

I’ve talked about the CASA forum, the peak body and I think as been mentioned before, I won’t go into too many of the stats about what we know about sexual assault. The figures that are often used is that one in three women are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. One of our slogans is – One in three women are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, we are grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, partners, cousins, friends. Listen believe, make our journey easier.

The youngest person I have worked with at Barwon CASA and I have been a counsellor there for 8 years is 4 and the oldest person is 91. The woman I worked with who was 91 had been assaulted when she was a child but moved into a residential setting and was sexually assaulted again. What we find often happens in those circumstances its past childhood sexual abuse is retriggered. We did a few sessions around that, not only in terms of counselling but also in terms of advocacy because she was really fearful about with the different carers that came into shower what might happen. It was important that she was able to talk with the management of the residential facility about what might help her feel safer. So even though we’re counsellors we’re also advocates around people’s rights as well.

I’m looking at the time and I’m really aware that time is brief. I just wanted to mention that at Barwon CASA and across some of the other CASA’s we’re what’s called an MDC. Now we are collocated with the SOCIT, which is the Sexual Offences and Child Investigation Team. Part of this collaboration that I’m sure lots of you have heard comes into a lot of policy. The idea is that we get collocated with the police who investigate sexual offences and also the Child Protection staff who investigate allegations of sexual offences against children. In July will be 2 years that we’ve collocated and I can just say it’s absolutely fantastic. I’ve learnt so much about better ways to help people in that process. People can come to us and have confidentiality around their counselling matters but if we sign consent then we can really advocate far more quickly and far more fairly and consistently for our clients.

Just in terms of disability support,  I’m not sure if most of you are aware, but if somebody is making a statement in relation to a sexual assault and they have a disability they can elect to have an independent 3rd party present during the making of the police statement and if it goes to court. Their role is simply to make sure that the process is being fair and that the client themselves is understanding what’s being said and what’s being asked of them. Also, people with disability for indictable offences, so more serious offences, can make video statements that are later used in court. That also applies to children making statements about sexual offences. That’s called VARE, which is video and audio recording evidence, which basically means we have a little room all nicely set out with the camera and people’s statements are filmed as well as recorded.

Obviously our buildings are accessible and we do a lot of outreach but I think most of the CASA’s are the same so if you’re ever thinking that you want to come to a CASA and you’re not sure about accessibility we will go right out of our way to make sure peoples individual needs are met. Feel free to contact us.

Just in terms of stats, last year we had 888 cases of sexual assault both people either coming in relation to past sexual assault or recent sexual assault. In our services, 15.7% of those were people with a disability. We’ve broken them down there so that is indicative that people with disabilities are being….that violence against people with disabilities are probably higher than the general public.

So that’s us, we’re in Geelong. The contact numbers are there and please take all my brochures, they were quite heavy to carry up and I don’t want to carry them back. Thank you.


Thank you Diane and what a fantastic example of a sexual assault prevention program where it’s been tailored to be specific for students with disabilities. That Nelson Park Special Developmental School Prevention Program actually involved the whole school so the principal, teachers and parents were involved in that curriculum as well.

Because we’ve started so late and we’ve got a fantastic panel, we’re running a little behind time. Our next speaker has kindly offered to truncate his talk, which is unfortunate because it’s really important. We might be able to find out other ways to hear more from Rodney. We will look at how time allocation is going as we head towards question time. We have spoken a lot about people who experience violence but starting to wonder who is using violence who chooses to use it and who do they choose to use it against.

Rodney is fantastic to speak on this topic. He works on No to Violence as the Manager there. Thanks Rodney.

Thank you Jen, Robyn and everyone. I will be really brief because I know time is marching away. I will leave you with a few brief points.

I represent a couple of services and the Men’s Referral Service I’ll talk about more towards the end. I think the thing I really wanted to stress is when a man uses violence and the majority of people who use violence in an intimate relationship are men, if we look at the proportion of people who use violence on any family members, 80 or 85% are men. But when we look at the proportion of people who use violence against a current or former intimate partner it’s more up to 90 or 95% range.

Men use violence deliberately. It’s not because of a man feeling out of control, blowing his fuse, getting too angry, feeling powerless. It’s not because of stress or financial problems, relationship issues. So many people men and women experience these things. It’s what the man chooses to do when he has that intense emotion of anger or jealousy or when he is feeling frustrated or powerless, whatever. It’s that choice that he makes. And unfortunately because of the privilege as men we have in relation to women many of us men choose to focus on our own needs and feelings and to use violence as a way of feeling better and to control a partner.

That’s where the different forms of violence that Elisa and others talked about around the emotional, verbal, social, physical, sexual violence, they’re all tactics. They’re all ways of men being able to keep things the way they want to in their particular relationships and they all link together. The social violence to try and isolate his current or former partner so that she doesn’t speak to any other men that he might have a reaction of jealousy. It’s his problem of jealousy, it’s not her fault. She is just wanting to follow a basic human right to have social connection. But he has a jealousy reaction, he doesn’t see it as himself having a problem, he then tries to close her down and blames her for his emotion. He may use emotional violence to call her worthless, he may use physical violence to make her afraid. So there are choices, different tactics of violence. Alcohol, stress, relationship issues that’s not the root of the problem because basically it comes down to his choices.

For women with disabilities many men who use violence have that extra layer of privilege and their tactics to crave vulnerability, to control, to trap, to terrorise, to make it too difficult for someone to exercise their choices in life. So for women with disabilities who have the double oppression of facing disabalism as well as what it means to be a woman in our society men can take advantage of that vulnerability and use tactics to control.

As advocates, as practitioners, as community services workers you will come across men making those choices to take advantage of those potential vulnerabilities.  The last thing I want to leave you with is if you know of a situation where a man is using violence it can be tricky, it can be difficult to know what to do.

I will leave some brochures out the back for a service that we operate called the Men’s Referral Service. It’s a telephone based service and about 20% of our calls, 20/30% are either from community service workers, friends, family members, colleagues, where you can talk over a situation and say someone supporting someone, I’m advocating for, I think she is experiencing violence from a carer, from an intimate partner, or it may be someone you’re supporting who a man who you think might be using violence what do I do, how can I do something safe here? I don’t necessarily want to barge in and have that conversation with him because that might make it worse, I don’t know what she is thinking, I don’t know what’s going to be the best to support her.

Often it’s a bit of a plan and sometimes in addressing a situation it might be two or three advocates, allies, friends. One person might try to find the safe way of hearing her perspective, letting her know about services, believing her, listening to her, linking her into a service like Berry St. And then there might be the decision about who is going to have that conversation with him to encourage him to call Men’s Referral Service or encourage him to go to a men’s behaviour change program. Often it’s not anger management that’s going to work, that can do it harm. Not relationship counselling because men can use it as an excuse to say hey love we have a problem here where really he is the one that needs to accept responsibility for his choices. Often the men’s behaviour change program is the best referral choice. But to begin with, a phone call to the Men’s Referral Services can have an anonymous conversation with a practitioner just to talk through what might be some steps and options here about doing this safely and what other services people can be supports there.

I will leave some brochures at the back table of that. I think I might leave it at that and with question time might move over to Jen. Thank you.


Thank you so much Rodney for both unveiling some of those myths and also giving us some really constructive strategies to move forward when we’re faced with  pickled situations when we can see men using violence against women.

Now Jacqui Brown disability advocate who is going to speak to us about a woman’s perspective on what services can offer, specifically advocacy services.

Can everybody hear me, I’m not going to get up and stand up there because I think standing is a bit overrated and I’m not going to be too apologetic about going a bit over time. I think as women with disabilities often as we know our voices are excluded in these kinds of spaces. I’m just going to take up a bit of time and space unapologetically.

I guess a lot of this has been touched on and I haven’t been rude and sending text messages or playing games on my phone while the speakers have been talking. I have been trying to take notes in my note section on my phone. A lot of this stuff has been touched on and I will go through some of it quickly. We know from the general population that one in three women have experienced sexual abuse. We know for women with disabilities this is at least two times greater than that so for women with intellectual disability for example 90% have experienced sexual abuse by the time they turn 18 years of age. That is a horrible statistic but I think for me knowing that, that encapsulates why we need to act, why we need to start thinking deeply about how to support women with disabilities because we’re dealing with a traumatised population. And a population that needs tailored kind of advocacy and self-advocacy services.

I had two questions that Jen posed to me today and the first one was – what do women with disabilities require from an advocacy service? I think they require the advocate to notice the signs of violence and to make appropriate referrals. As the first speaker said, we need to be able to have services that provide advocacy or provide assistance or provide crisis intervention across a range of services.

We know as women with disabilities we live complex and interesting lives, we’re not just our disability, we’re not just our gender. We are mothers, we are carers, we are all kinds of people. The services that we need when we’re in crisis or when we’ve experienced abuse or violence, need to reflect those multiple roles and those multiple worlds that we straddle.

Also, we need advocates to really check their assumptions around what it means to live with a disability and check their assumptions around the idea or the agency that the women with a disability might have. I think one of the things we know about women who experience violence is that women who experience violence do things every day to keep themselves and their children safe. They do things every day to survive, to self-advocate, to look after themselves. We know that is also very true of women with disabilities. Seeing a woman with a disability as a vulnerable woman that is true, she experiences a range of disadvantages and discriminations but she also does a number of really important and powerful things in her life every day to resist that discrimination and those forms of violence that she may be experiencing as well. She is not just the passive poor weak kind of person she is also a very enraged and powerful woman as well. I think that often gets lost.

Then my second question was – what does being treated with respect and given a choice mean for you? I sat with this question for a couple of days. I thought about it because it was kind of confronting. I think as someone who lives with multiple marginalised identities, obviously I’m a woman, I’m a woman with a disability and I’m also gay. Often when you live with multiple forms of disadvantage these questions around what would it feel like to have a choice or to be treated with respect are often things that you find difficult to consider because often you’re so used to not being asked those questions.

We’re so used to expecting the base line or being grateful for the very little that we’re given. I kind of sat with that and I thought about it and I thought about it particularly in relation to the NDIS because I’d just been at the National Disability Summit in Melbourne, which was rather hard to get into as a person with a disability interestingly. I won’t go into that. There is a lot of space for service providers but not very much space for disability advocates or self-advocates at the moment with those kind of summits, which is rather disturbing.

Anyway I have been thinking about that and I think one of the things that being given choice and respect means is it means being given platforms like this, being allowed into spaces to actually have a voice. It means making sure materials or information are presented to the woman in a way that she understands. Also, when we talk about advocacy we need to think about as well to advocate alongside the woman. As much as possible to understand what she wants and needs and requires, to slow down maybe, to sit down beside her, to really check in with her and see how she wants to proceed with whatever the advocacy is. So to really advocate alongside and encourage her self-advocacy skills and connection to community and to the disability community as well.

I think one of the interesting things happening with the NDIS at the moment, I heard a parent of a son who had a disability speaking at the conference and she said you know what’s really interesting, she is in one of the trial sites, she said what’s really interesting within the first year we really didn’t know what we could ask for. We were so used to getting the bare minimum of services that we were talked to in these ways of choice and respect and control over the services you get and we didn’t really know how to start to think about what we even wanted because we were never really asked those questions. But now we’re starting to see a year on that people with disabilities in those trial sites actually asking for a whole range of different things and asking for really what they do want and starting to work through what that means. I think creating spaces and creating time and space to sit with a woman with a disability and allow her to really think that through clearly, to realise that she does actually have choices and she is being engaged with in a truly respectful manner, will start to kind of follow through with what it means to actually get services that are respectful and do actually allow us to have choices.

That’s it, the end.


Fantastic Jax thank you for that. I think from having seen the panel we can see there is a few more options presented to us. We might like to say to all of them would you be interested in taking out an intervention order, would you be interested in speaking to a centre against sexual assault. Robyn is just leaving but before she goes….

Just getting the roving mic.

Amy is going to be the microphone rover. We can play Marco Polo. Does anyone have a question?

It’s Kathy Borakas here. I just wanted to ask the gentleman from the Men’s Referral Service, just how extensive your service reach actually is, how do your services be known, how do you market your services?

I guess with the Men’s Referral Service itself it’s probably no more in some pockets than others, I think for many people here it might be the first time it’s heard of. I think the Men’s Behaviour Change Programs they’re becoming more widely known. Basically, the Men’s Referral Services is a referral point to the Men’s Behaviour Change Programs. For men who use violence against someone they’re caring for, an intimate partner, another family member it needs to be often the face-to-face work over a period of time. That includes men themselves with disabilities and some men with disability to participate in programs as well with additional supports.

There are about 35 Men’s Behaviour Change Programs through Victoria, about 18, 19 within the Greater Melbourne, Metropolitan area and the remainder in rural regions. So finding the nearest Men’s Behaviour Change Program you can do that through phoning the Men’s Referral Services but also most women’s family violence services, communal legal services would know where the local service is. By all means, some men will get referred by a service or go directly to the Men’s Behaviour Change Program, for others it’s finding Men’s Referral Services.

That was a great presentation thank you everyone. We work with young people with disabilities. I guess the thing that always comes to our attention is people are very dependant on others for quite messy support or care. Obviously if you’re dependant on someone else for your basic needs how do you then get to a point where you say that person that’s providing all that stuff is perpetrating violence against me and how do I get out of that situation and there is no funding or no other avenue for having that basic assistance provided?
I recall the previous Government introduced some kind of funding that was attached to instances of violence, is that funding still available or are there other avenues for people to get basic support needs in that kind of situation?

The information packs have got the contact information for the Department of Health and Human Services Disability Family Violence Crisis Response Initiative Refuge Funding. Very long title. It’s 13 weeks of funding of brokerage funding for disability support for women and children with disabilities seeking safety from family violence. Obviously, in the longer term because 13 weeks is very short other strategies are required. There is a range of other funding and housing services that sexual assault and family violence services can tap in to. The Department of Health and Human Services try to link people who go through that brokerage fund to more on going disability supports. I guess the question for the sector is, how can we advocate for a place for that family violence brokerage funding as we get nationalised funding as well. Was there anything anyone wanted to add on that?

I just also want to add the funding itself there is quite a lot there so I think it’s about $9,000 over that 13 weeks and it can be used in anyway whether it’s equipment that she needs to self-support herself in the home or if it’s safe accommodation, whether it’s a motel/hotel or getting into refuge and providing physical access to that service.

There is some elasticity around the amount of funding provided. The thing that is quite rigid is you’re only eligible if you meet the Disability Act definition of disability which as we know leaves out many, many people. Any other questions?

One of the big issues that I see is for women to recognise they are subject to abuse and violence and there needs to be support out there to support women in the brochure or recognition. I would like to know from you do you do anything to support women to recognise their situation?

What was the last part of the question?

To recognise and acknowledge that they are subject to abuse and violence.

Would Berry St or Barwon take that one?

I think that’s a really good point you’re raising. Often women don’t acknowledge that they’re living with violence and often that’s to do with…women just get so worn down by what’s happening to them that they often lose sight of what’s considered to be a healthy relationship and their self-esteem gets really worn down within that. There are lots of agencies that will work with women including ours. We will work with people who choose to stay the only reason that we might think differently to that would be if we consider the children to be at risk of harm because obviously we’ve got to look after the safety of children. But we’ve got very broad views of what…if the women are in that situation and don’t want to leave and they often don’t, then we will work at how to better keep them safe and perhaps building up their self-esteem and then maybe considering further down the track hopefully the guys might go off to a Men’s Behaviour Change. We’re not coming from that place of if you’re getting hurt and not leaving we won’t work with you and hopefully other agencies do that too.

Certainly, our agency works in the same way. That is about giving women choice and agency around their situations. Often you will find that they might not be recognising certain parts of their experience are domestic violence. Part of that is educating them around what is violence and what is not. Again, providing them with safety planning around that.

I think also for women with disabilities, we know from the Voices Against Violence Report Women with Disabilities Victoria put up last year and it’s been touched on today but I think it’s worth reiterating, that women with disabilities experience disability based violence as well. Particularly violence that targets their disability as a sign of violence. In that report there was one quite harrowing example that stuck with me as a wheelchair user where the perpetrator of violence actually removed a wheel off the wheelchair so she couldn’t leave the house. So gender and disability really do intercept in women with disabilities experience of violence and particularly violence in the home.

Also as someone who doesn’t work in the sector but as somebody because as we know women’s experience of violence is so high, someone who has had to support friends who have been in violent relationships, I think we all need to learn and be supported to learn ways of beginning to speak to our friends and family members about have they experienced violence or are they experiencing violence. For me the first time I had to try and have that conversation with someone I loved, it was really, really hard. I didn’t know how to use any language around it and sometimes the language we learn through the sector can sound really kind of I’m sitting you down for this kind of conversation and people can have a bit of a reaction to that. So kind of thinking through how do we start to talk to women about this might be something you might be experiencing when I have seen behaviours like this in other people, for me this could suggest that maybe you’re going through a tough time with your partner what does that mean, just something.

I think that’s a really good point you raised Christian. I think the lack of access to information about what constitutes violence that people with disabilities receive really highlights the need for more prevention programs and for services to be able to make that information on what is violence and how to get help available to people. I think we have time for one last question just to sneak one in.

My question is about the legal system, the court system when it comes you talk about the definition of family violence yet in my experience in supporting victims of family violence that the intervention order process doesn’t recognise most of the definitions of family violence as in emotional abuse. I have been repeatedly told no can’t get it unless it’s physical. I just find and also to get legal representation most lawyers their personal  lawyer won’t do it, they have to access the on duty lawyer which again in my experience has been inadequate because they’re too rushed and don’t have enough of a picture of the client and their situation.

I think that’s one for me.  I guess what I outlined before is what the act says. To get an order and to satisfy the Magistrate obviously it has to be argued and they’re satisfied that particular violence has occurred. But that’s what should happen and that is I think what our service would hope that if someone came to us and they have evidence that that type of violence has occurred then we would argue that in front of the court. As you all know the system is stretched and I guess what you’ve touched on is when applicants go down to the local Magistrates Court, if they’re applying for themselves there are fifty other people at least who are in the same boat on that morning. Unfortunately duty lawyer services, applicant support services are absolutely stretched but that doesn’t mean the law shouldn’t be applied correctly. I guess what we need to do is make sure that the cases are adequately put before the Magistrates and the Magistrates have to find if they are satisfied that that has happened that order should be made.

I guess there is a couple of things here. With many family violence orders these days they are taken out by police and the police are the ones who are prosecuting the cases. If it’s people who are advocating on their own and applying themselves, yes it’s really important to have representation and yes it can be difficult to get that but all I can do is encourage people to contact services like ourselves if they are perhaps not absolutely clear physical sexual violence. Perhaps that’s an instance where people should be trying to access services like ourselves in that first instance of getting the initial first interim order. That’s what I would encourage people to do because the law is really clear.

What can happen on a first mentioned date in an intervention order matter is that there can be some negotiations. I guess what we need to be careful of is that applicants aren’t persuaded to take a lesser undertaking or something like that, that the matter does get before the court so that the Magistrate can hear the evidence and then the decision needs to be made in accordance with the Act. I would encourage people to get legal assistance. Yes, the system is stretched, duty lawyers on the day are inundated with people. It is always better if you can get that advice before hand.

Thank you Elisa. In closing, I would like you to think as advocates going forward how you can hold those two ideas of gender and disability so when working with people with disabilities, when making submissions to the enquiries we’ve mentioned such as the NDIS safeguards in your discussions this afternoon. Please join me in thanking our fantastic panel of speakers.




Date published:
Wed 8th Apr, 2015