PHOTO: Samantha Connor (front) says women with disabilities have been raped and abused but complaints can go nowhere, and accountability is lacking. (ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)
People with disabilities have been found severely neglected, repeatedly raped, with broken bones and left humiliated in their own faeces for hours at a time, a Senate inquiry has been told.
The inquiry into the abuse and neglect of people with disabilities in residential and institutional settings began hearings in Perth today.
Witnesses recounted scores of examples of assault by the people who had been entrusted to care for the victims in aged care homes, group homes for people with disabilities and mental health centres.
Women with Disabilities WA coordinator Rayna Lamb said the abuse of disabled people was chronically underreported, largely because victims were often not believed or could not communicate what had happened.
“It’s so common,” she said outside the hearing.
“On one hand, it’s assumed no one would treat a person with a disability badly. People just want to care for people with disabilities.
“But we live in a society where the attitude to disability means predators know that they can attack us, that they can abuse us, that they can treat us like shit because who is going to believe it?”
Ms Lamb said non-verbal people were particularly vulnerable because often when they expressed their anguish through actions, such as repeatedly banging their heads or screaming, it was wrongly interpreted as part of their disability.
Accountability lacking, cases ‘go nowhere’
A group of six women from the disability advocacy group Bolshy Divas gave collective evidence before the hearing, citing 40 examples where disabled people had been severely beaten or raped.
They are worried about retribution, … instead of dealing with the issue they tend to move residential facility or just sweep it under the carpet.
Acting chief executive of Advocare Sharon Richards
They told the hearing about a 12-year-old girl who came home from a school holiday camp for disabled children with a deep cut to her vagina.
Police investigated but the child had no spoken language and could not give an account.
“Basically, there’s no accountability and it goes nowhere,” Bolshy Divas’ Samantha Connor said outside the hearing.
Quoting figures from Women With Disabilities Australia, Ms Connor said 90 per cent of women with intellectual disabilities were sexually abused.
Calling for a royal commission into the treatment of people with disabilities, she described institutions as the “perfect places” for abuse to occur.
“Institutional settings are just breeding grounds for people to be deprived of independent advocacy,” Ms Connor said.
Acting chief executive of Advocare Sharon Richards told the hearing the rights of people with disabilities were constantly contravened.
She said one woman with dementia in a residential facility had to wear incontinence pads but they were only changed twice a day, making her feel uncomfortable and humiliated.
She told the hearing about an 80-year-old woman found to have green and yellow bruises and a badly fractured femur that had not been attended to.
Another woman was allegedly left with an injury to the top of her head after being hit with the buzzer used to call staff.
Ms Richards said people with disabilities often did not report abuse because they feared retribution from people within the facility they lived in.
“They are very vulnerable and unable, more often than not, to speak up for themselves,” she said.
“They are worried about retribution, and, as I said in the hearing, instead of dealing with the issue they tend to move residential facility or just sweep it under the carpet.”
The lack of family support compounded the problem, the hearing was told.
“A lot of women with disabilities do not have family support,” Ms Lamb said.
“The family is often the source of our greatest oppression.”
The hearing continues.