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Violence & Disability Quarterly

ISSUE 18 : December 2014The Violence Against Women with Disabilities Newsletter is a quarterly publication highlighting projects, resources and research responding to violence against women with disabilities. Past editions are available at
For more information or to contribute, please contact Jen Hargrave, Policy Officer – Violence Against Women with Disabilities, at

In this Issue:
Vale Stella Young – a shining star

Stella is dearly loved by the whole community, and all of us here at Women with Disabilities Victoria. Stella became famous across the country for her sharp writing and commentary on panels, and her hilarious comedy. Stella’s untimely passing is a huge loss for our community. Our thoughts are with her family.

Executive Director of Women with Disabilities Victoria, Keran Howe said, 'Stella's contribution to the Australian community as a whole reflects her importance as a social commentator of her time. Our loss is huge.'

Stella was committed to addressing both ableism and sexism, and spoke out about how they lead to violence against women with disabilities. She was a loud, proud clear voice saying that women with disabilities have a right to respect.

WDV chair, Marija Groen comments, “She was, and will remain, a shining star for women, women with disabilities and everyone who believes in human rights and social justice. Her capacity to make real change through consciousness raising and humour is a testament to her generosity of spirit and her steadfast determination.”

The Guardian reports that Stella Young’s family asked for those wishing to pay tribute to donate to Domestic Violence Victoria in her name, “as she was also a passionate advocate for that sector.” To donate to Domestic Violence Victoria visit

PHOTO: Stella Young, Jenny Macklin MP and Keran Howe at the Women with Disabilities Victoria AGM, 2013.

Memorial service for Stella Young

A public memorial service will be held 11am, Friday 19 December at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Representatives of Women with Disabilities Victoria will be attending the memorial for our lovely Stella Young at the Town Hall at 11am on Friday 19th December.

We know that many of our members will be there and we wanted to have a way for wdv members to acknowledge the huge contribution Stella made to the rights of women with disabilities, particularly in regard to her advocacy to stop violence against women with disabilities.

So for anyone attending, particularly Women with Disabilities Victoria members, you are invited to carry bright pink gerberas with a WDV card you can attach, we will have cards there with an inscription and and a place to sign your name.

There is a florist stall at the corner of Little Collins and Swanston St outside the town hall offices. We will meet near the town hall florist at 10am if you would like to join us and purchase a pink gerbera for Stella.

WDV news:

Victoria's change of Government

Women with Disabilities Victoria congratulates the Andrews Government on its appointment. We look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the rights of women with disabilities are front and centre of the agenda. This includes ensuring that recommendations of the State's Family Violence Royal Commission and the Disability Care Inquiry take account of each other. We believe this is critical to stopping violence and abuse towards women with disabilities in both the home and in disability service settings. 

Women with Disabilities Victoria has met with Victoria's new and first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson.  We provided a copies of our key resources, the Voices Against Violence research, the Violence Fact Sheet and the Violence Position Statement.

We would like to acknowledge the significant work of the previous Government, and in particular that of Ministers Mary Wooldridge and Andrea Coutts on their work to prevent and respond to violence against women with disabilities.
WDV presents to the DV Senate Committee Inquiry into Domestic Violence

In July 2014 WDV wrote a submission to an Australian Senate Committee Inquiry into Domestic Violence, making 19 recommendations for the Australian government to drive change regarding violence against women with disabilities. These include the development of national disability standards and disability workforce training that includes responding to violence against women with disabilities.  
The Senate Committee undertaking the Inquiry (the Finance and Public Administration Committee) invited WDV to an inquiry hearing held on November 5 2014. We were pleased to be asked to present to the committee alongside one of our Voices Against Violence Research partners, Office of the Public Advocate, with whome we share a vision for improved responses to women with disabilities experiencing violence.
We made short presentations and senators asked WDV and OPA questions related to the recommendations in our written submissions. The hearing transcript is available via the Hansard Public Hearings page.
The great debate on violence as a crime

Women with Disabilities Victoria participated in a Great Debate, Is Family Violence a Crime?. The debate was proudly presented by the Outer Southern Peninsula's Integrated Family Violence Partnership. WDV Executive Director, Keran Howe argued for the position that, 'family violence against women with disabilities must not be a crime because no body treats it like that.' The well spirited debate raised regional awareness of family violence and received media attention.

PHOTO of Great Debaters: Fiona McCormack (DV Vic), Maya Avdibegovic (In Touch),  Chris Atmore (Federation of CLCs), Keran Howe (WDV), Adrian Evans (Monash University, Law), Luke Cornelius (Victoria Police).
Violence prevention forum in the City of Whitehorse

'Stop working in silence' was the theme for the City of Whitehorse violence prevention forum held on the 28th November. The forum brought together workers from many sectors and speakers considered how violence can be experienced by a diversity of women including older women and women from culturally diverse communities. Disability was well represented through a presentation by WDV Policy Officer, Jen Hargrave, forum support provided by WDV Board Member, Ann-Marie Baker, and forum planning by Whitehorse Metro Access Officer, Maureen D'Arcy.

PHOTO: Whitehorse violence prevention forum presenters, Anita Koochew (Eastern Community Legal Centre), Sylvia Daravong (Ethnic Communities Council Vic), Jen Hargrave (WDV) and Maureen D'Arcy (City of Whitehorse)

State resources and programs:


Women's Housing vacancy list @YWCA

YWCA Victoria send regular updates about housing vacancies, some of which are disability accessible. Community Services organisations interested in joining YWCA's mailing list contact:
Paul Dickerson
Community Housing Officer
YWCA Victoria
T: 03 83418766 | F: 03 83418744
E: W:
A guide to navigating the disability service system: Through the Maze

The Association for Children with a Disability's resource, Through the Maze, has some useful information about how to find a disability service. Unfortunately they only provide this in a PDF format, but it is a valuable resource for both adults and children.
Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme

The Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme was designed by the Victorian Department of Human Services as a way to increase the safety and wellbeing of Victorians living in disability group homes.

The scheme requires disability service providers to conduct an additional pre-employment check prior to making an offer of employment.

Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme at a glance

  • The Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme strengthens existing pre-employment screening processes
  • Both government and non-government disability service providers will be covered by the scheme.
  • People who pose a proven risk to the health, safety or welfare of people with a disability living in group homes will be listed on the Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme.
  • The scheme will be managed by the department.
Contact information
Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme Unit website
Telephone: 03 9096 3203

Sexual assault prevention programs tailored for students with disabilities expanded

Barwon CASA has tailored the Sexual Assault Prevention Programs for Secondary Schools (SAPPSS) program with Nelson Park School to make it more accessible to students with intellectual disabilities. Barwon CASA is now working with CASA House so that the revised program can be rolled out in other regions.

For more information see about Barwon CASA's work with Neslon Park Special Developmental School see the feature article, Sexual Assault Prevention for students with disabilities, in the Violence Quarterly October 2013.
For more information about the revised SAPPSS curriculum and other CASA training programs contact CASA House:
admin Line, 03 9635 3600
What Men Can Do - an online resource for activists, ambassadors and other male allies

On the What Men Can Do website you can find out about how men can respond to and prevent men’s violence against women. What Men Can Do is published by No To Violence.
Making Rights Reality pilot project evaluation shows how legal and sexual assault services can be enhanced for people with disabilities

The Making Rights Reality pilot project included research, advocacy and enhanced services at South East Centre Against Sexual Assault and Springvale Monash Legal Centre to address the inequities faced by people with a cognitive impairment and communication difficulties who experience sexual assault. The pilot evaluation is now available online.

The Making Rights Reality evaluation reported, "Improved advocacy for victims with a cognitive impairment and/or communication difficulties is one... [of the] ‘non-legislative’ reforms identified through the Sexual Offenses Reform consultations. It is referred to as having a ‘central role’ for better outcomes for victims with a cognitive impairment or communication difficulty and as being ‘vital at all stages of the justice process’ (Goodfellow & Camilleri, 2003) and further reinforced by Camilleri (2008; 2010) as a significant factor in the progression of sexual assault reports through the justice system. The role of advocacy in the context of the MRR project is to “explicitly advocate the wishes and best interests of the complainant, ensuring they are heard and their choices respected wherever possible” (FCLC, 2011)."*
*Extract from p7 of Dr. P. Frawley's Making Rights Reality. Final evaluation report: A pilot project for sexual assault survivors with a cognitive impairment, (2014), Melbourne, La Trobe University.

While the pilot project is complete, the Making Rights Reality service continues, and project partners are looking to see how the service can be expanded into other regions. To contact the service, learn more about it, or see the project's fantastic Easy English print resources, visit the Making Rights Reality webpage,
Disability and family violence crisis fund update

The DHS Disability Family Violence Crisis Response Initiative began funding disability supports for women and children in family violence crisis in 2010. Over the years knowledge of the program has grown in both the family violence and the disability sector.

This last financial year the Initiative has supported 30 families from all Divisions of the State. Referrals have regarded women and children with a variety of disabilities covered under the DHS Disability Act*, though the primary disability of clients is intellectual disability.
*The Act states that people who have a physical, sensory or neurological impairment, an acquired brain injury, intellectual disability or developmental delay may be able to access disability services.
The initiative coordinator, Leonie, ran presentations in 10 organisations in the last financial year, and she is available to visit your service or forum in 2015.

Referrals and inquiries
Leonie Cleary  
Team Leader
Disability & Family Violence Initiative
Client Support Services, Client Outcomes and Service Improvement
Department of Human Services
p. 9843 6304 / m. 0437 741920  
w. Disability Family Violence Crisis Response Initiative
Assistance for victims of crime
Call or text the Victims of Victims of Crime Helpline to:
  • get advice about reporting a crime
  • find other services that can help you
  • get information about your rights
  • get information about how courts work
  • get help applying for compensation and financial assistance.
Open  8am -11pm, 7 days a week
Call   1800 819 817
Text   0427 767 891
See more at:

The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) can provide financial assistance to victims of violent crime committed in Victoria. VOCAT assists victims to recover from a crime by providing financial assistance for expenses incurred, or reasonably likely to be incurred, as a direct result of the crime. This might include assistance for injuries incurred through violence. Working with a lawyer can assist with the application process.
Support to make a complaint to the National Disability Insurance Scheme

The Regional Information and Advocacy Council (RIAC) is able to assist people make complaints to the National Disability Insurance Agency. If those complaints reach an unsatisfactory outcome, RIAC is also managing the external complaints process - this is the newly implemented External Merits Review Support Service. The service is available to Victorians who are resident in the Barwon launch site.

The EMRSS offers very specific support for people with disability seeking an external review of a decision made under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. All people with disability will be offered a support person when seeking external merits review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

Phone: p.5245 7986
Removal of children from parents with a disability - a recurring problem with an avenue for complaint through the Victorian Ombudsman

In September, Women with Disabilities Victoria met with the Victorian Ombudsman. We were heartened to hear that the office identifies the experiences of women with disabilities experiencing difficulty in the child protection system. The Ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints about State and Local Government authorities, and the office is committed to supporting complaints related to unfair removal of children from women with disabilities. To contact the Ombudsman or find out more about her powers, visit the Victorian Ombudsman website.

Women with Disabilities Victoria recently received a call from a woman with a disability who was about to have her children removed by Child Protection. She was reaching out for help, as the children were going to be placed with a perpetrator of family violence, and because she felt the way child protection services assessed the situation was discriminatory.

The Voices Against Violence research found that it is just this type of experience which deters some women from disclosing the family violence experienced by them and their children.

12 months ago, this issue was also raised in the Office of The Public Advocate (OPA) report, "Whatever happened to the village? The removal of children from parents with a disability - Report 1: Family Law, the hidden issues" by Barbara Carter, December 2013.

OPA's report makes 6 recommendations specific to addressing the discrimination experienced by women with disabilities in child projection matters, including staff training and changes in assessments.



Magistrates to receive family violence training 


The Age reports that Victorian magistrates will receive two-day training on family violence as part of a broader plan to make women and children safer in the courts.

Jane Lee writes, "They will discuss social issues within family violence, including cultural and disability issues and how people respond to trauma. The course will also cover engaging with perpetrators in the courtroom, accountability for perpetrators and behaviour change programs."

The report continues, "The court plans to improve its family violence services over the next two years, including enabling some victims and witnesses to give evidence via video and improving court waiting areas for children. It will also launch a website with information on family violence intervention orders and introduce new time frames for responding to family violence-related criminal charges."

SOURCE: Jane Lee, The Age, 26 November 2014.

Women with Disabilities Victoria is pleased to be involved in providing training for Magistrates, and as a reference for website developments.

State inquiries:

Victorian 'inquiry into Disability Care Abuse' announced

The new Victorian Government says it "will move quickly to undertake a thorough Parliamentary Inquiry into the systemic failures in Victoria’s disability care system."

The Government's press release reports: "The Inquiry will examine why abuse isn’t reported or acted upon, and how it can be prevented. It will examine the role of the Department of Human Services, as well as investigatory powers and processes of the police, the Disability Services Commissioner and the Office of Public Advocate."

The Government promises to set the terms of reference in consultation, and that they will be broad enough to include residential care facilities, day services and employment enterprises. Women with Disabilities Victoria would like to see the inquiry also review services provided in the home.

Media Release: Victorian Ombudsman to investigate disability abuse reporting


Statement issued by the Victorian Ombudsman's Office, 8 December 2014

The Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass announced an investigation into how allegations of abuse in the disability sector are reported and investigated.

"Concerns in the sector and recent revelations in the media have prompted me to look closely at current practice to identify deficiencies in reporting and investigation. We also need to look at the support provided to some of the most vulnerable in our community when there are allegations of abuse.

Abuse of people with a disability is unconscionable in a civilised society. Something is wrong with our systems, and we need to understand what is broken and what can be done to fix it." Ms Glass said.

Data from the Disability Services Commissioner, the Office of the Public Advocate and the Victorian Ombudsman show continuing issues with the way in which incidents are reported and handled. The data raises concerns of delay, lack of awareness and co‑ordination, poor investigation and poor communication with clients and families.   

The investigation will cover services which include residential, respite and day programs funded by the Victorian Government. It will also look at the oversight responsibilities of agencies including the Department of Human Services and the Disability Services Commissioner. 

Ms Glass said, "The Public Advocate has told me that the high-profile cases of abuse are only the tip of the iceberg. Concerns about abuse will never be alleviated if people do not report allegations – or if those reports are not taken seriously and investigated thoroughly,

We also need to examine the effectiveness of those charged with oversight of the system – and to highlight areas where there may be no oversight at all. It is particularly important as Victoria begins to roll out the National Disability Insurance Scheme that we have robust reporting and escalation processes in place, and that any gaps in oversight have been identified and addressed.

Looking to the future, the aging population and anticipated higher rates of disability may well mean an increase in the provision of these services. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that the human rights of people with disabilities are rigorously defended.

I am keen to hear directly from people who have had experience of reporting abuse, as clients, family members or staff in the sector. This will be invaluable in shaping my understanding of the extent of the problems and making recommendations to effectively deal with them,’' Ms Glass said.

The investigation is focused on the process of reporting and investigation. Any specific allegations of abuse should be made to Victoria Police.  

The outcome of the investigation will be tabled in Parliament in due course.

Submissions should be lodged by 15 February 2015.
Via email:
By post: Victorian Ombudsman
Level 1, North Tower
459 Collins Street
Melbourne 3000

Further information:
Lynne Haultain
Tel 03 9613 6200
Mob 0409 936 235
Follow @VicOmbudsman

SOURCE: Statement from Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass regarding announcing an investigation into disability abuse reporting.

Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence

The Victorian Government will commence a Royal Commission into Family Violence in early 2015, it is planned to report findings by the end of the year. An eminent judge with experience in Family Law will be appointed to head the investigation which will have a range of sectors in its scope.

WDV will work with our members, and partners from the No More Deaths Alliance to participate in the Royal Commission.

National Reports:

Violence against women is torture: Australia and the UN Committee Against Torture

Women with Disabilities Victoria was pleased to be a contributor and an endorsee of the Australian NGO Report to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). While this is Australia's fifth report, it is the first time the Committee has asked Australia to comment on violence against women.
The Human Rights Law Centre prepared the report. Rachel Ball from the centre wrote, "We had a fantastic response from 77 organisations from a broad range of sectors providing their endorsement in whole or in part. This will send a strong message to the CAT Committee and the Australian Government that there is a vocal and engaged NGO community in Australia calling on the Government to do more to meet its obligations under CAT."

In response to reading the report, WDV member and University of Melbourne academic, Lucy Healey wrote,
"It’s sobering to see the sweep of population groups and settings addressed in this submission and shaming to see the extent to which we have normalised and institutionalised violence in Australia reflected back. Very powerful."

In addition to the report, Women with Disabilities Australia provided the CAT with a Submission providing an update on escalating and urgent human rights violations, which WWDA has asked the Committee to consider in the context of Australia’s review. WWDA’s brief Submission addresses: violence against people with disabilities in institutional and residential settings (particularly sexual violence perpetrated against disabled women and girls); Forced/Involuntary sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities; and, Forced/Involuntary Electroshock (ECT) of women and girls with disabilities. Copyright WWDA 2014.

In November the CAT met in Geneva to review Australia's performance. The Australian Government argued before the committee that violence against women does not fall within the Committee’s mandate.

The Committee's concluding observations stated that the State should consider strengthening the mandate of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Productivity Commission recommends improvements for women who have experienced violence to access justice

This Productivity Commission's report, Access to Justice Arrangements, was released on 3 December 2014.

The report seeks to address a long-standing gender inequity in Australian Law, where perpetrators can examine victims. Community Legal Centre representatives have welcomed many of the reports recommendations.

“For women who have been raped, assaulted and psychologically abused by their ex-partner, the trauma and distress of being questioned by their perpetrator at a family law trial is profound. With fewer and fewer victims of family violence having access to legal aid in family law trials, it is critically important to ensure that there are proper protections in place to stop re-traumatisation. The Australian Government has the opportunity, in light of the Commission’s recommendation, to make a real and concrete improvement to how victims of family violence are treated in the family law courts.” Pasanna Mutha, Policy & Campaigns Manager of Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV) in a WLSV media release (4 December 2014)

Volume 1 looks at the accessibility of the justice system, the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution, the regulation of the legal profession and the structure and operations of ombudsmen, tribunals and courts.

Volume 2 discusses private funding of litigation; and the provision of legal aid, both broadly, and specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Some relevant findings include:
  • The LAW Survey examined the characteristics associated with individuals experiencing multiple legal problems. It found that those with a disability, those in single parent families, the unemployed, Indigenous Australians, women, those aged between 15 and 64 years old, and those living in regional areas were more likely to experience multiple criminal and civil legal problems (Coumarelos et al. 2012). p67
  • People with disabilities find many aspects of the civil justice system, and the mainstream services offered, difficult to access. Even where mainstream services have attempted to cater for people with disabilities, these services may still be inaccessible.
  • People with disability have variable access to mainstream community legal assistance services around Australia. While some services provide accessible and responsive legal assistance to persons with disability, there are significant barriers to access in many of these services. Barriers include some of these services being located in buildings which are not fully physically accessible, client meeting rooms may lack hearing augmentation, legal information may not be in accessible formats, staff may refuse Auslan interpreting, and staff may not be capable of working with people with additional comprehension needs or who utilise unfamiliar communication systems. (Australian Centre for Disability Law, sub. DR215, p. 6). p154
  • A well‑recognised entry point should also be capable of facilitating ‘warm referrals’, where users are connected directly to appropriate assistance rather than having to initiate contact with assistance services themselves. LawAccess NSW gives ‘warm referrals’ to its priority clients — including people who are at risk of harm, have low levels of literacy, are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, have a disability, are homeless, and are in custody  — making it easier for these clients to access appropriate assistance (NSW DAGJ 2012a). p170
  • Some ombudsmen provide outreach services. A suggestion was made by the Victorian Ombudsman that, where appropriate, other bodies (such as the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner, Disability Services Commissioner or Privacy Victoria) could focus on their advocacy role and transfer their complaints to the Ombudsman, which is better resourced and has a higher profile. For example, of the 832 complaints and enquiries received by the Disability Services Commissioner in Victoria in 2011‑12, 47 per cent were out of jurisdiction, reflecting the narrow scope of complaints that office can receive (Disability Services Commissioner 2012). p336.
  • The implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) may lead to additional legal need around disputes of eligibility (Legal Aid NSW, sub. 68; Law Council of Australia, sub. 96; Australian Lawyers Alliance, sub 107; Australian Centre for Disability Law, trans., p. 258). p44
Some key recommendations include:
  • The Australian Government, in consultation with the family law courts, should amend the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to include provisions restricting personal cross‑examination by those alleged to have used violence along the lines of provisions that exist in State and Territory family violence legislation.
  • $200M more funding to legal services sector in the areas of civil law (particularly family law) which is likely to assist women in need of assi.
  • That governments should provide funding for strategic advocacy and law reform activities that seek to identify and remedy systemic issues and so reduce demand for frontline services.
Find out more
See the Commission's inquiry report.
See the National Association of Community Legal Centres media release (3 December 2014),
NACLC Welcomes Productivity Commission Report Conclusion:$200 Million Needed for Legal Assistance Services.
See and hear the ABC Radio report, When the perpetrator becomes the prosecutor, (4 December 2014)

Auslan videos launched on Royal Commission website

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has made new videos available on its website and YouTube channel. The videos are presented in Auslan and are captioned.

“These videos will enable people who are Deaf or hard of hearing to access information about the Royal Commission including its purpose, the work it has been doing and how people can be part of it,”  said CEO Philip Reed.

The videos are available to watch on the Royal Commission's website and YouTube channel.

People who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment can use the National Relay Service to contact the Royal Commission. It is available to everyone at no additional charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Calls can be made by TTY on 133 677 or Speak & Listen 1300 555 727.

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