16 04 2008

Disabled assaults a ‘hidden shame’

Carol Nader

April 16, 2008



A woman with an intellectual disability was admitted to hospital 70 times over several years because of injuries she sustained when her husband assaulted her.

The woman also acquired a brain injury caused by a combination of excessive drinking and head trauma from the repeated assaults.

The assaults resulted in lacerations, bruising, swelling and fractures. The hospital admissions were also due to self-harm and suicide attempts.

Public Advocate Colleen Pearce has highlighted the recent case of the woman, known as “Cath”, as an example of the abuse experienced by people with disabilities, what she describes as our “hidden shame”.

Last year, Ms Pearce’s office helped 202 people with intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injury, mental illness or dementia who were victims of physical or sexual assault and rape. These are just the people helped by her office, so it is likely there are many more.

She says people with cognitive impairments are at higher risk of abuse than others. “People with a disability are often silent victims,” she said. “Some of them might be ignorant about their treatment or abuse.”

Ms Pearce said Cath had been threatened with weapons, locked out of her house and restrained by force. She had also been assaulted by friends of her husband. At one stage she gained an intervention order against her husband, but he continued to see her and assault her. One incident of assault was witnessed by a support worker, but the worker did not call the police. It was possible that the worker may not have reported it because the woman asked her not to.

But Ms Pearce, who raised the issue of abuse this week at a disability forum, said sometimes abuse could manifest in ways that were less overt, such as neglect.

She is particularly concerned about people with intellectual disabilities who are also diagnosed with a mental illness, and the failure in some cases to regularly review their condition. Some people had been diagnosed several years earlier with a mental illness, but their treatment and diagnosis had not been reviewed. “If they’re prescribed these medications for mental illness, why aren’t they having regular mental health reviews?” she said. Such reviews should be annual.

Ms Pearce said there needed to be a culture change to reduce abuse.

“The first thing is about naming the abuse, making sure people are aware of their rights,” she said. “We would like to see more preventive strategies developed. The most critical point is community education to prevent the abuse from happening, and that only will happen in the context of people being informed of their rights and what violence is and how they respond to it.”

A spokesman for Community Services and Mental Health Minister Lisa Neville said staff were required to report any incidents to senior management immediately. Staff who did not report them were subject to discipline, including possible dismissal.

“When we receive allegations of a serious nature, we act quickly and staff can be directed to take leave while an investigation is under way. Matters are referred on to police where appropriate,” the spokesman said.

Opposition community services spokeswoman Mary Wooldridge said the rights of people with disabilities had been ignored. “The Government says it has an individual patient rights approach, but the reality is quite different. Rights are being ignored through abuse, the lack of individual plans, and the lack of individual care.”

For help or information, visit www.beyondblue .org.au, call Suicide Helpline on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114.




One response

16 04 2008
Senior Living Communities » Blog Archive » Disabled assaults a ‘hidden shame’ Carol Nader April 16, 2008 …

[…] ganolen published an entertaining and interesting post on Disabled assaults a â […]

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