Left to right: Keran Howe, Sue Sherrard and Susan Salthouse
A new programme to enhance the ability of women with disabilities to escape abusive living situations is proving a success in Australia’s Capital Territory.
International figures show women with disabilities are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as women in the general population. Women with an intellectual disability can have up to a 90 per cent likelihood of experiencing a sexual assault at some time in their lives.
The convenor of Women With Disabilities ACT, Susan Salthouse was in New Zealand recently and says the responsibility has now been put onto the Domestic Violence Crisis Service and Rape Crisis Centre to cope with women with disabilities coming out of a situation of violence.
She says a lot of training has taken place to up-skill people working in the area of domestic abuse.
Susan says refuges have been audited for their accessibility, emergency funding is now available so women can buy the equipment they need and fund any necessary support. Even taxi drivers have received training in how to best help a woman in a crisis, she says.
Women with disabilities are subjected to all the forms of violence that affects non-disabled women but Susan says the range of violence that can be perpetrated is much greater, as is the length of time it can go on in a person’s life.
“Women with disabilities are exposed to a greater range of perpetrators, who may be the support workers who come into their home and whilst we perpetuate group living situations it means they accessible to violence perpetrated by their house mates.”
She says women with disabilities can also be subjected to the threat of the removal of their children, the threat of or actual removal of equipment and the refusal to give medication when it’s needed.
Susan says one of the first people to use the new scheme to remove herself from a situation of domestic violence was a woman with very high needs who had been living in fear for five years.
“It was only when she found out there was an avenue for escape that she came first to Women with Disabilities ACT... she’d found out about it because we ‘d started to get the message out. She thought she had no way of escaping because it was just too complex and too much to contemplate.”
Where to get help
Shine - call free 0508 744 633 (9am to 11pm, 7 days a week)
National Helplines (pdf) - call free 24-hrs 0800 883300
Are You Ok - call free 0800 456 450
Women With Disabilities ACT
Women with Disabilities Victoria