Royal Commission details violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability

People with disability are experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation across all aspects of their lives, including in education, health care and justice settings, and in their homes, workplaces and communities, the Disability Royal Commission’s Interim Report says.

The Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was presented to Governor-General David Hurley, AC DSC (Rtd) on October 30, 2020. A copy of the Interim Report has been tabled in Federal Parliament.

The report says people with disability experience attitudinal, environmental, institutional and communication barriers to achieving inclusion within Australian society. It shows that a great deal needs to be done to ensure that the human rights of people with disability are respected and that Australia becomes a truly inclusive society.

To this end, Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC, is expected to request a 17-month extension of time to present the Royal Commission’s final report to September 29, 2023.

The Interim Report sets out what the Royal Commission has done in its first 15 months, the cut-off point being 31 July 2020. That date was too soon for the Royal Commission to make firm recommendations on the issues discussed in the report. They will come later. However, a report containing findings and recommendations arising out of the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be published in November 2020.

The 561-page document details the experiences of many people with disability, as well as the reasons they are exposed to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The report records the high rates of violence towards people with disability. The most recent data from 2016 shows that almost 2.4 million people with disability aged 18-64 years (almost two in three) had experienced violence in their lifetime. In a 12-month period, people with disability are twice as likely as people without disability to experience violence.

“The Interim Report is an important milestone in the work of the Royal Commission,” Mr Sackville said. He said that the pandemic has hampered the work of the Royal Commission, particularly its public engagements, but the Interim Report has been presented within the time specified in the Terms of Reference.

The report explains the approach the Royal Commission is taking. The task confronting us is formidable, but we are committed to completing the work in a way that will help bring about transformational changes in the laws, policies and practices affecting people with disability.”

The Royal Commission has held seven public hearings and published nine issues papers and six research reports since it was established in April 2019, although the COVID-19 pandemic which forced public hearings to be held online.

It was set up in response to community concerns and is investigating, among other things:

  • Preventing and better protecting people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • Achieving best practice in reporting, investigating and responding to violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability
  • Promoting a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

“In the past 50 years, significant progress has been made in addressing the harsh – at times cruel and inhuman – treatment of people with disability,” Mr Sackville said.

“Many horrific institutions have been closed and people with disability now have a voice through their representative organisations. The NDIS has been established. But welcome as those changes are, a great deal remains to be done

The report says First Nations people face double discrimination because they are both First Nations and a person with disability; they are more likely to experience harm than the general population and they lack culturally appropriate services and supports.

“First Nations people with disability have told the Royal Commission about being bullied or abused by people in positions of power. It has also heard that the fear of child removal and subsequent institutionalisation is a particular barrier for First Nations people with disability accessing services,” Mr Sackville said.

Chapter 17 of the Interim Report ‘Emerging themes and key issues’ discusses key areas that have emerged as particularly significant to the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

They include choice and control; attitudes towards disability; segregation and exclusion; restrictive practices; access to services and supports; advocacy and representation; oversight and complaints; data; and funding.

A specific chapter is dedicated to the unique experiences of First Nations people with disability.

The report notes there is no nationally consistent data on neglect or exploitation of people with disability, and no comprehensive data on experiences of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, gender diverse people and those from the LGBTIQ+ community, children and young people, First Nations children, and people experiencing homelessness.

The report points out that accurate and reliable data is needed to set goals, measure progress, hold governments and other organisations to account, and determine whether Australian governments are meeting their obligations under the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Among the issues to be examined as the Royal Commission continues its work are the experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems; training and education of health care professionals; pathways and barriers to open employment for people with disability; domestic and family violence against people with disability especially girls and women; and long-term detention and interactions with the criminal justice system experienced by people with disability.

“The summary of the Interim Report begins with a quote: ‘What is happening to people (with disability) is not okay and the stories need to be told’,” Mr Sackville said.

The Commissioners hope that this report amplifies identifies the issues that have to be addressed and contributes to ensuring that the voices of people with disability are not only heard but heeded.

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