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Violence & Disability Quarterly

ISSUE 13 : OCTOBER 2013The Violence and Disability Quarterly publication highlights 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:

New initiative to address violence against women with disability

Disability sector workers will receive specialist training to help them prevent and deal with violence against women with disability through an innovative project funded by the Victorian Coalition Government, Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge announced on October 23, 2013.

Ms Wooldridge said that $400,000 will be provided to Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV) to deliver a training and education program on gender and disability for professionals.

"Family violence can affect all women, however evidence suggests that women and children with disability are particularly at risk of becoming victims of violence," Ms Wooldridge said.

"This training program will give disability service workers a better understanding of issues facing women with disability in order to deliver gender-sensitive and equitable services. Disability service workers will be better equipped to identify when violence is occurring and appropriately respond. They will also learn strategies to promote respectful relationships in disability services between workers, managers and people with disability."

WDV will partner with Yooralla to deliver training to their direct service workers and managers. Training will also be delivered at a second trial site in the Barwon area – the Victorian launch site of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The pilots will:
  • identify trainers, both women with disability and professional trainers (with or without disability), to deliver gender and disability training;
  • resource, trial and evaluate the training package; and
  • implement peer education with people with disability within the trial site services, based on the successful gender sensitive Living Safer Sexual Lives program.
Women with Disabilities Victoria Executive Director Keran Howe said she was excited to be working with disability organisations in the campaign to eradicate violence against women.

"Improving a disability organisation's understanding of the issues facing women with disabilities, and inequalities produced by gender bias, is a really important part of the fight to eliminate violence against women with disabilities," Ms Howe said.

The funding for this project is made available through Victoria's Action Plan to Address Violence against Women and Children 2012-2015.

Upon successful completion of the project it is anticipated the training package will be submitted for accreditation with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA), or the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) and considered for further roll-out.

For more information contact:
Fofi Christou
Gender Equity Training Coordinator
Women with Disabilities Victoria
Level 9, 255 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Phone: 9286 7805

Sexual Assault Prevention for students with disabilitiesby Jess Boccia
Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault has been implementing the Sexual Assault Prevention Program in Secondary Schools (SAPPSS) for around two and a half years. Our Initial interest in implementing the SAPPSS model came from a desire for a sound and informed response to prevention of sexual assault. As an organisation working primarily with victim survivors of sexual assault, Barwon CASA recognises that women with disabilities are at higher risk of sexual assault, and the devastating affect this crime has on victims, their families and the community. 
About the Sexual Assault Prevention Program in Secondary Schools (SAPPSS)
The SAPPSS program was developed in 2004 by CASA House as a model that works across all three levels of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary. Its focus is on creating partnerships between CASAs and secondary schools to work towards positive change within school communities and incorporate sexual assault prevention into the curriculum.
The broad aims of the SAPPSS program are to:

  • reduce the incidence of sexual assault in school communities
  • establish safe environments for young people to discuss relationships, consent and communication
  • enhance young people’s knowledge of and access to support
  • enhance the capacity of secondary schools to respond to sexual assault.
The main components of the model are:
  • whole-staff professional development on the issue of sexual assault
  • six-session student curriculum for year 9 or 10
  • train-the-trainer workshops for teaching and support staff to deliver student curriculum
Although the focus is prevention of sexual assault, SAPPSS also addresses a range of damaging behaviours and social norms that relate to other types of violence against women and, overall, aims to promote cultural shifts towards respect and equality (Imbesi 2008).

Evidence base for SAPPSS
Evidence suggests attitudes supporting gender stereotypes and gender based violence are formed in adolescence (Imbesi 2008). Research has shown that young people experience high levels of sexual assault. The Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young Victorians report stated ‘1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men report experiencing coercion into unwanted sexual activity’ (Family Planning Victoria, 2005). Of those reporting coercion, half stated this first occurred before the age of 17, with over 80 percent reporting the first episode of coercion before the age of 21.
There is also significant concern about the perpetration of sexual assault by young men. Australian Bureau of Statistics report 20-30 percent of rapes and 30-50 percent of child sexual assaults are perpetrated by young people. Barwon CASA believes it is important to begin conversations with young people around these issues early and work towards challenging both gender stereotypes and violence supportive attitudes before they become central beliefs.
Why take SAPPSS to a Special Developmental School?
Women and children with disabilities are at increased risk of experiencing violence including sexual assault. This is particularly true for women with cognitive impairments (VicHealth 2004, Jennings 2003, Brownridge 1999, Gilson et al.2001, Carlson 1997). The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Sexual Offences: Final Report states that:
 “people who have cognitive impairment are more vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse because they depend on others for assistance with daily life.” (Victoria Law Reform Commission 2004, p321).
In late 2012, Nelson Park Special School in Geelong expressed interest in implementing the SAPPSS model within their school. Prior to this, contact between Nelson Park and Barwon CASA was predominantly around secondary consultation and referrals of students for counselling. While SAPPSS is always based on a partnership between CASAs and schools, within Nelson Park School this took on a whole new meaning due to the SAPPSS curriculum needing adaptation to better meet the needs of students with intellectual disabilities.
Adapting SAPPSS for a Special Developmental School
While Barwon CASA could contribute knowledge around sexual assault and implementation of the SAPPSS model, Nelson Park staff were more appropriately placed to advise on curriculum adaptations and what would work for the students at their school. A working group consisting of two teachers, the school social worker and a staff member of Barwon CASA was formed to consider the existing curriculum and how it could be altered for use with Nelson Park students. This was quite an interesting process as it involved learning’s for both sides and needed to consider the challenges of maintaining the integrity and structure of the program while also ensuring it was accessible to a range of student abilities. The greatest learning from this process for Barwon CASA was that the adaptations were actually straightforward and that many changes were things that would enhance learning experiences within mainstream settings (such as incorporation of visual resources and movement based activities).
A number of school staff members were selected to deliver the Year 9 curriculum, based on their ability to engage with students and their interest in sexual assault prevention. These staff participated in three days of training together with staff from mainstream schools that are also implementing the SAPPSS model. Following this, all Nelson Park School staff attended a professional development session on responding to sexual assault. Particular emphasis was placed on ensuring that education support staff also attended this professional development in recognition of the important role they play within the school in supporting students on a day to day basis. A particular focus of the professional development sessions was recognising and responding to all forms of sexual assault including those that some may view as “less serious behaviors” such as sexual jokes and name calling. The impact of these behaviours and their role in creating cultures which condone violence against women was also discussed. Alongside these professional development sessions, Nelson Park School developed a flow chart to guide staff in responding consistently and appropriately to all forms of sexual harassment and assault.
The SAPPSS curriculum is delivered to year 9 students (although some schools in other areas deliver it at a year 10 level) over a period of 6 weeks. Within the Barwon region this consists of 6 double period sessions. Class sizes are generally around 15-20 students in separate sex groups. The sixth session is conducted as a mixed sex class. Facilitators are either 1 male and 1 female or 2 females in the case of young women’s groups.  Barwon CASA considers maintaining separate sex groups for the bulk of the program as important in creating safe spaces where students feel they are able to contribute freely. Young people we have spoken to during evaluation who have participated in the SAPPSS curriculum have also identified this as important.
At Nelson Park School the only changes made to the basic delivery structure were to have smaller class sizes (around 10-12 students) and to have more sessions (10) of a slightly shorter duration. These decisions were made in recognition that some students at Nelson Park School might find it difficult to concentrate on one topic for a large period of time and might require more comprehensive explanations of information and more time on tasks involving reading and writing. In delivering the program, staff found it effective to encourage discussion more often than writing activities, as a large percentage of students found it difficult to focus on contributing to group discussion and needing to write down answers to questions. In practical terms this meant that often when students were working in small groups one of the students who was confident with writing skills would take notes for the rest of the group.

Project learnings
To date, the first period of curriculum delivery at Nelson Park has provided both Barwon CASA and the school with valuable learning’s and further adaptations. Some of these include replacing words within the student workbook to avoid confusion (such as ensuring when sex is referred to, the word sex is written rather than “sleep with”) and inclusion of further visual aids (such as explaining laws in relation to age and consent). Further thought will also be given as to how to actively engage students with a diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder, who often present with problems around effective social interaction. It is anticipated that focus groups which will be conducted with a number of students shortly will also provide valuable feedback into further refining the curriculum.

Carlson, B (1997) “Mental Retardation and Domestic Violence: An Ecological Approach to Intervention”, Social Work 42(1): 79-89.
Family Planning Victoria (FPV), Royal Women’s Hospital and Centre for Adolescent Health (2005), The Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young Victorians, Melbourne, Royal Women’s Hospital.
Gilson, S, Cramer, E.P, and DePoy, E (2001) “Redefining Abuse of Women with Disabilities: A Paradox of Limitation and Expansion,” AFFILIA, 16(2): 220–235.
Imbesi, R, 2008, CASA House Sexual Assault Prevention Program for Secondary Schools (SAPPSS) Report, CASA House, Melbourne, Victoria.
Jennings, C (2003) Triple Disadvantage: Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre, Melbourne.
VicHealth (2004) The Health Costs of Violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence, VicHealth, Carlton.

For more information contact:
Jess Boccia
Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault
Children's and Youth Team
Geelong West
Ph. 5222 4318
Barwon CASA is a partner organisation in the Barwon Multidisciplinary Centre

Making Rights Reality – 'easy read' documents about sexual assault support
South East CASA have developed 'easy read' articles about sexual assault support services.
These are part of the Making Rights Reality project
Articles cover:
  • Counselling
  • Crisis Care
  • Going to Court
  • Having a health check
  • Making a statement to the police
  • Money to help you after sexual assault
  • Planning for your safety
  • Sexual assault and family violence: getting help
See the articles at:

How does the system respond to women with disabilities who experience family violence?: Women’s Health West report

In 2010 Women’s Health West secured funding to develop a model for intensive case management for women with disabilities who experience family violence. The Department of Human Services recognised that service provision to women with disabilities required a more integrated approach.This project aimed to increase women’s access to family violence services in a system lacking agreed protocols, frameworks and training. The complexity and diversity of this client base means disability and family violence fields need to develop a shared understanding of our roles, particularly for clients whose needs span both sectors.

The project is documented, with recommendations for future work, in the Women's Health West Report, How does the system respond to women with disabilities who experience violence?.

The report outlines ten recommendations including a shared understanding of family violence – frameworks, definitions and understanding of prevalence and impact – and an increase in consultation between the disability and family violence sectors at all levels.

Training is recommended for disability workers to use the Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF). CRAF is currently used by family violence workers and police. Adoption by the disability sector would support workers to identify risk factors and respond consistently and appropriately.

Another recommendation involves protocols for reciprocal secondary consultations that enable disability workers to discuss family violence concerns with family violence workers. Concerns that are difficult to substantiate can lead to non-reporting by disability staff, who are well aware of the vital and sometimes difficult role that families and carers play in supporting the needs of women with a disability. Appropriate discussion of these concerns provides the worker with support and enhances the woman’s safety.

See the report at:


Sunrise women’s groups: linking women in the West
Sunrise women’s groups are for women of all ages who have a disability and want to meet other women and feel connected. The group is open to women with a physical and/ or intellectual disability and women who experience mental illness. Groups get together fortnightly in Laverton, Melton, and Caroline Springs. To see each groups calendar of events please visit

All venues are wheelchair accessible and public transport is nearby. If you are interested in joining but feel a little unsure, how about just trying us out? Vicki, the facilitator, can talk to you on the phone or come and meet with you. If it is difficult for you to get around she can organise the support you need. You can even bring a friend to the group if this would help.

Please call or email Vicki Hester to join a group or find out more.
Phone: (03) 9689 9588

Disability Action Planning at the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service

Victoria's 24 hour family violence crisis service has lodged its Disability Action Plan 2013-2016 with the Australian Human Rights Commission. Congratulations to the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service (WDVCS).

The Plan is available for other organisations to see, and consider how they can increase disability access to their services. The WDVCS plan is listed on the Commission's website under "Non Government", "Other" at .

1800Respect: respecting disability risk factors

1800Respect is Australia's National counselling, information and support helpline regarding sexual assault and family violence. 1800Respect also provide information and support to workers.

Women with Disabilities Australia developed information on disability for the 1800Respect web page which covers:
  • Disability and abuse factors
  • Good Practice
  • Reporting domestic and family violence
  • How to learn more
Visit 1800Respect's Disability Information Page to find out more.

Research into the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime –
Focus groups for women with disability

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission wants to talk to people with disabilities about their experiences reporting crime to police, including why people do and do not report crime to police.The focus of their research project is on victims of crime.

They are looking at crimes against the person, including:
  • assault
  • sexual assault
  • indecent assault
  • family violence
  • and causing serious injury.
This covers crimes that occur at home, on the street, on transport, and in services such as disability services, schools and hospitals.

More information on the project can be found on the Commission's Website.

Focus groups for people with disability about reporting crime to police
There will be four focus groups. General sessions are available to everyone. There are two sessions for women only, including one for women with mental health disability.
Self advocates (general session - all participants welcome)
3-5 pm, Thursday 31 October
Ross House, Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Self advocates (women-only session)
3-5 pm, Wednesday 6 November
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street, Carlton VIC 3053

People with mental health disability (general session - all participants welcome)
3-5 pm, Wednesday 30 October
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street, Carlton VIC 3053

People with mental health disability (women-only session)
10-12 pm, Wednesday 6 November
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street, Carlton VIC 3053

RSVP to: Wendy Sanderson, Senior Advisor, Strategic Projects
Phone: (03) 9032 3492 TTY: 1300 289 621 Email:
Please let Wendy know if you require assistance with access or communication.

If you want to be involved but can’t (or don’t want to) attend one of these focus groups, please contact Wendy to find out other ways to share your experiences.

Information from the focus group will be included in a report, to be published in early 2014. No person will be identified in the report.

Violence against People with Disability in England and Wales: Findings from a National Cross-Sectional Survey


The recent World Report on Disability highlighted violence as a leading cause of morbidity among disabled people. However, we know little about the extent to which people with disability experience different violence types, and associated health/economic costs. The recent introduction of disability measures into the England&Wales victimization survey provided an opportunity to address this gap.

Methods and Findings

The 2009/10 British Crime Survey (BCS), a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of 44,398 adults living in residential households in England & Wales was analysed. Using multivariate logistic regression, we estimated the relative odds of being a victim of past-year violence (physical/sexual domestic or non-domestic violence) in people with disability compared to those without, after adjusting for socio-demographics, behavioural and area confounders. 1256/44398(2.4%) participants had one or more disabilities including mental illness (‘mental illness’) and 7781(13.9%) had one or more disabilities excluding mental illness (‘non-mental disability’). Compared with the non-disabled, those with mental illness had adjusted relative odds (aOR) of 3.0(95% confidence interval (CI) 2.3–3.8) and those with non-mental disability had aOR of 1.8(95% CI: 1.5–2.2) of being a victim of past-year violence (with similar relative odds for domestic and non-domestic violence). Disabled victims were more likely to suffer mental ill health as a result of violence than non-disabled victims. The proportion of violence that could be attributed to the independent effect of disability in the general population was 7.5%(CI 5.7–9.3%), at an estimated cost of £1.51 billion. The main study limitation is the exclusion of institutionalised people with disability.


People with disability are at increased risk of being victims of domestic and non-domestic violence, and of suffering mental ill health when victimized. The related public health and economic burden calls for an urgent assessment of the causes of this violence, and national policies on violence prevention in this vulnerable group.

See the full report at:

National Symposium: Stop the Violence

The project
Stop the Violence is part of a multi-layered approach to assisting women with disabilities under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The project will provide an evidence base to support future reform of the service system to better respond to the needs of women and their children. The project is a partnership between Women with Disabilities Australia, People with Disabilities Australia and the University of NSW.

The Symposium
A high-level, cross-sector National Symposium on Violence against Women and girls with Disabilities was held in October 2013. The National Symposium was attended by the Minister Assisting the Minister for Women, and Australian Human Rights Commissioners on Gender and Disability.

Executive Director of Women with Disabilities Victoria, Keran Howe, said, "This was a wonderful opportunity for women with disabilities, other community leaders and government representatives to come together to discuss this important issue."

Participants developed consensus on good policies and practice measures to address the issue. Project partners produced a comprehensive Background Paper for the symposium, available at:

The symposium generated great media attention, including a ABC Radio National feature by The World Today.

Good Policy and Practice Compendium
The project will develop a good policy and practice compendium to address issues of violence against women and girls with disabilities including:
  • practical information and resources to improve access to, and responses of, service systems with a particular focus on domestic violence/sexual assault and disability services for women and girls with disabilities experiencing or at risk of violence;
  • recommended models, responses and approaches to support engagement, participation, representation, information sharing and decision-making of women and girls with disabilities; and
  • advise on structural and systemic issues including legislation, regulatory frameworks, policy and programs, and data collection and monitoring.
Project WebsiteThe Project website has a wealth of information. The Facts and Figures section is highly recommended, as it covers: 
  • Key figures about Australian Women and girls with disability
  • Key facts about violence and abuse
  • Useful resources

In the news: Disabled get help to escape home violence
Henrietta Cook reports on the DHS Disability Family Violence Crisis Response Initiative for The Age, August 2013.
''If you have an intimate partner who is also providing personal care, there is a dependency that needs to be broken for a woman to make choices about how she can be safe,'' Keran Howe, Executive Director, Women with Disabilities Victoria, told The Age. She said the initiative made it easier for women to escape family violence and would be a disincentive to perpetrators.”
Read the article on The Age Website.
Information on the Initiative is available via the DHS website.

Councillor Colleen Furlanetto appointed to Victorian Disability Advisory Council

Congratulations to Colleen Furlanetto, on her appointment to the Victorian Disability Advisory Council. Councillor Furlanetto is the Deputy Mayor of Strathbogie Shire Council and has represented her community in local government since 2008, serving on many committees including health, education, training and the local disability advisory committee.

Ms Furlanetto has a lived experience of disability. She also co-chairs the Municipal Association of Victoria's Prevention of Violence Against Women Network.

The 14-member council advises the Victorian Government and works with community and government advisory groups on policies and strategies to increase the participation of people with disability in the community.

The new council commenced its term on 1 July 2013. It includes nine new members from a variety of backgrounds, including: people with disability, family members of people with disability, advocates, business owners, academics and long serving community sector and local government representatives.

Information courtesy of Bill Sykes MP.

The Conversation: Justice denied, the neglect of sexual assault victims with a disability
Anastasia Powell writes for The Conversation (October 2013), identifying barriers to justice for victims of sexual assault with disability, and recommending actions. Read the piece at:


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