Presentation on theme: "Family Violence and women with disabilities: setting the context."— Presentation transcript:
Family Violence and women with disabilities: setting the context
Despite the substantial documentation over the past decade of the significance of violence against women with disabilities, progress in addressing this violence has been limited. This continues to create barriers for women with disabilities. Research suggests it is not always easy for women with disabilities to define what is abusive treatment and what is not. Research also shows that survivors with a disability stay in abusive relationships much longer than average and believe they have fewer options to reach safety. (DVIRC 2006)
When we put disability and gender together we have an oppressive cocktail. Women with disabilities are often considered to be ‘asexual’ and therefore unlikely to be targets of domestic/family violence. Consequently, legislation, policy and services developed by society to combat domestic/family violence demonstrate denial and indifference to the reality of violence against women with disabilities (Calderbank 2000, WWDA 2007)
Researchers have found that compared to non-disabled women, women with disabilities: experience violence at higher rates and more frequently; are at a significantly higher risk of violence; have considerably fewer pathways to safety; tend to be subjected to violence for significantly longer periods of time; experience violence that is more diverse in nature; and experience violence at the hands of greater numbers of perpetrators. (WWDA 2007)
Service pathways can be complex for women with disabilities experiencing violence. Where the woman is living, the nature of her disability, whether or not the woman has contact with services, whether her first contact for disclosure is a disability service or a family violence service will all impact on response outcomes. Mapping pathways for service access is not straightforward. When speaking with disability workers they generally feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue. When discussing barriers to service access with family violence and sexual assault workers they talk in terms a series of hurdles, rather than a well-defined set of pathways to support for victim survivors. Lack of resources to initiate flexible responses to women with disabilities needing assistance sited as one of the biggest problems (Jennings 2003)
Women with disabilities more often than not:- live in a state of poverty. are dependent on government are offered limited access to education, lack access to appropriate information on rights, experience a lack of choice in housing and transport, may be dependent on others for self-care, live restricted social lives.
It is this deprivation of experience, opportunity, social and political discrimination that renders women with disabilities more vulnerable to violence rather than any actual experience of any ‘impairment’. (Jennings 2003)
The failure of the feminist discourse to integrate the experience of women with disabilities leaves both women with disabilities marginalised and feminist analysis of social reality incomplete. (M Ireland 2002)
Violence against women with disabilities refers to wide range of abuses, both individual and systemic. Women with disabilities experience many different types of abuse, some of which are unique to them. For example, sexual abuse of a woman with a disability may include forced sterilization, forced abortion. Physical abuse may include taking away a woman’s wheelchair, or bathing a woman in water that is too cold or too hot, it could involve rearranging the physical environment, which then increases risk of personal harm. (Jennings 2003)
Data Collection and Information Sharing
Women with disabilities in this country experience extremely high levels of violence, but this is not reflected in data about service use, or in their access to services. Every day that issues of access are ignored is a day when many women with disabilities are denied their fundamental right to live free of violence (Jennings 2004).
Services should seek to examine the barriers within their own services through client feedback, data analysis, service evaluation and consideration of their local community demography. Services need to ask: How many women with disabilities live in the local community? What percentage of those women are likely to have experienced some form of family violence? And most importantly: How many of those women with disabilities has the service provided support to in the past month, quarter or year?
The collection of data is a sound beginning; however family violence services need to document any limitations and challenges faced by their service in their attempts to assist women with disabilities. Agencies also need to fully document what strategies they have successfully utilised to overcome any challenges faced in providing a service to women with disabilities. This documentation would provide an important basis for the service’s reflective practice and continuous improvement. This analysis could also make an enormous contribution to the collective lobbying for a more equitable response to women with Disabilities who experience family violence. We need systemic change, policy development and sector planning that is more inclusive of the experience of women with disabilities.
The use of sole occupancy orders in supporting women with disabilities
Women can face isolation, emotional trauma and acute economic disadvantage as a result of their decision to leave. Mental illness, the development of substance dependencies and the incarceration in correctional facilities have also been identified as consequences of exposure to family violence and homelessness. Women with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities often face a whole realm of additional problems if they are forced from their homes. For some, it can mean long-term loss of independence and identity. Fear of such devastating loss and social disadvantage may imprison women in violent relationships. (Southwell 2002).
Exclusion orders are particularly valuable for women and children, for whom the disruption of emergency accommodation and a series of subsequent relocations are especially traumatic. Likewise, the orders are an essential requirement for those who cannot leave their homes due to financial dependency or reliance on disability-modified premises and proximity to support services (Southwell 2002)
Potentially there are great benefits for both women with disabilities and women with children with disabilities to participant in family violence programs that support the removal of the perpetrator from the home.
Housing situations are precarious for many women with disabilities. A decline in the supply of low cost housing, an increase in unemployment and the level of poverty, and changes in the service delivery policies of specialist services, have increased the risk of homelessness for many Australians. The impact of these changes is even greater on the more vulnerable among the homeless, most notably, women with disabilities.(WWDA 2005)
The DVIRC project has found that the current housing crisis in Victoria creates a significant barrier to women with disabilities escaping violence. Women with disabilities pay the highest level of their gross income on housing, yet are in the lowest income earning bracket. Women with disabilities face discrimination in accessing housing, whether in the private or public rental market.
For many women with disabilities considerable financial and human resources go into setting up a living environment, with the aim of maximising personal independence. Being suddenly removed from that environment has the potential to severely impact on the women's confidence and independence at least initially if not long term. The availability of affordable, accessible housing is a considerable barrier to women with disabilities escaping violence.
Women with disabilities carry the additional costs of their disability, which compound their lack of options in the housing market. Watson (1995) details a range of such costs, including those of modifying dwellings internally and externally to provide access as well as costs incurred by the need to purchase personal care and accommodation support services without which quality of life and level of independence would be severely restricted. (Cooper 1993; WWDA 2005).
Women with disabilities face discrimination in accessing housing, in the private and public rental market. Security of tenure is a matter for concern, particularly in private rental accommodation.
Women with disabilities need access to support services in order to maintain their independent living style. The location of their accommodation needs to be close to transport and all other amenities. Access to such purpose-built dwellings is limited and often makes security of tenure a crucial issue for many women with disabilities. Without access to safe, accessible and secure housing the risk associated with potential homelessness is made greater. (Currie 1996; WWDA 2005).
Women with disabilities living with a violent partner fear they will not have any support services if they leave. They are right, Funding guidelines for some services require women to have a carer in the home to be eligible for service. If the carer is also a perpetrator of violence there is often no capacity for the service to continue supporting the woman. This is a major disincentive for workers to identify violence amongst carers. Crisis services are not able to guarantee a woman’s care needs can be met in the immediate or even longer term.(Howe 2005)
Anecdotally women who have children with disabilities often return to the violent relationship because crisis housing is to disruptive for their child. If your child has a disability a change of address can mean a loss of contact with any one or a combination of these services: specialist child care, playgroups or school options specialist recreational options; in home support therapist(occupational, physio, speech); respite care; school based assistance district or community nursing; specialist & GP’s who know your child’s history family & behavioural intervention and support teams; child & adolescent mental health teams
Opportunities for national and international discussions about leading practice in the area (of removing the perpetrator from the home) would significantly advance understanding and efforts in Australia to support adult and child victims of domestic violence to safely remain in the family home. (McFerran 2007) These opportunities to discuss leading practice must include how to provide support to women with disabilities and women who have children with disabilities.
Access to the Criminal Justice System
A wide body of research pointing to women’s inferior access to the law on account of gender-based social inequality now exists. Women with physical, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities, those who have limited access to independent financial resources, and women who do not speak English find it even more difficult to enter the legal system. Some critical issues relating to women applying for intervention orders include difficulty in gaining access to legal aid, court facilities that are sensitive to the needs of victims of violence and inadequate or inappropriately-used interpreting facilities (Southwell 2002)
In the absence of information to the contrary, many women believe they do not have an equal entitlement to the family home. This belief is supported by a range of social and economic structures and influential cultural attitudes. Women who do assert their right to be protected by the law often find their way blocked by professionals who ‘gate-keep’ their legal options. Navigating a successful pathway through an insensitive, and at times hostile, legal system is especially difficult for certain groups of women including women with disabilities, those with poor access to independent financial resources, and women who do not speak English well. (Southwell 2002)
What do we know of the experience of women with disabilities; the law and gender-based violence? We know that family violence and sexual assault are very under reported crimes. We know family violence and sexual assault against women with disabilities are often not reported.
The community has been slow to recognise and categorise violence against women; in particular violence against women with disabilities; especially if committed in the privacy of one's home and by a family member. Women themselves have been taught that the violence is a personal matter. The silence of victim/survivors in reporting family violence and sexual assault can be attributed to reasons many and varied, the most common are: fear of not being believed; shame, fear of the perpetrator and the fear and stress associated with the criminal justice system.
We know that women with disabilities fear; that they will not be believed if they report abuse is valid. A major issue for many women with disabilities when reporting acts of family violence and sexual assault is credibility. Very powerful myths suggest that women with disabilities should not be believed when they report any form of violence against them.
Women with disabilities are often stereotyped as promiscuous, mad or incapable of understanding. Women with intellectual disabilities are often stereotyped as being, asexual, childlike or promiscuous, and those who have psychiatric illness as provocative.
The criminal justice system rests heavily on being believed at every stage especially in family violence and sexual assault cases. Victim/survivor's can be perceived as not knowing, not remembering and not being truthful particularly if they have a cognitive impairment.
Women with disabilities also fear they will not be given the opportunity to communicate their experience or that they will not be understood. It’s true that police and court systems don’t take account of ways to effectively gain information from women with disabilities. Complex police and courtroom processes discriminate against people with cognitive disabilities who may be reliant on clear explanations of procedures delivered simply and repeated as required.
When choosing to seek a sole occupancy order most women with disabilities would require assistance from a supportive family violence services. This support would be necessary if women are to successful navigate the criminal justice.
The issue of women with disabilities experiencing family and domestic violence is a critical one that we must address in a more effective way than we are currently doing. This issue is the responsibility of all services and organisations concerned with preventing and responding to family violence.
The family violence sector needs to enhance their ability to communicate and reach diverse audiences. Service providers need to learn more about how to better respond to women with disabilities experiencing family violence. Violence prevention initiatives need to reflect the diverse experience of women with disabilities.
The barriers to disclosing violence for women with disabilities need to be reduced. We need an increased awareness among women with disabilities of the impact of living with domestic & family violence. We need greater awareness among women with disabilities about the steps and strategies that others have used to respond to violence and obtain assistance.
Public understanding of the unacceptability of abuse and violence in relationships and the impact on women with disabilities needs to increase. Community perceptions about women with disabilities need to be challenged. We need to strengthen community education strategies that are inclusive of women with disabilities.
Conclusion Equal opportunity is founded on the principle that all people in the community enjoy the same level of access and equity. What makes the difference in achieving real access and real equity in agencies are the attitudinal factors. Women with disabilities require a commitment from family violence services; the police and justice system to ensure all women and children receive the support they need when escaping violence. (Jennings 2004)