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Responding to violence against people with disability

  • It is not always possible for people with disability to contact support services when they experience violence or abuse
  • Sexual, domestic and family violence services need to ensure that they are inclusive of people who live in 'domestic' settings such as group homes and other forms of supported accommodation
  • If you don't respond to sexual, domestic or family violence often, our Introduction to responding page is a good place to start.

How to support people with disability affected by violence

Workers need to be able to get support to people with disability in ways that take into account institutional cultures and practices. There are some practical things services can do to support people with disability who are affected by violence.

These include:

  • Treat all people with disability with dignity and respect
  • Treat all people with disability as adults
  • Empower people to make their own informed decisions about their situations
  • Be sensitive to cultural and linguistic diversity (including deaf culture or speech impairments). In particular, be sensitive to the needs of people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or CALD communities. Remember that people with disability can also identify as belonging to minority groups including LGBTI.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of women with disability who are mothers

It is important to remember that the person comes before the disability. A common mistake many service providers make is to focus on issues of disability rather than what is most important to the person at that time (for example the need to escape a violent situation).

Be mindful of additional risks that the person you are supporting might be experiencing.

When supporting someone, keep in mind the following actions:

  • Check what, if any, communication assistance is required before any assessment of the situation
  • Check whether they identify as having a disability
  • Check whether any children identify as having a disability
  • Check whether they have an assistance animal and what support or provisions are required
  • Enquire about any supports that may be required for daily living, and who provides that support
  • Check whether they require mobility aids, medications or treatments and record the details of any schedules
  • Identify any support services that they are engaged with
  • Explore what support or assistance is needed if they want to access other services, including accommodation
  • Develop a safety plan that meets the needs of mothers and children (addressing, for example, lack of mobility and any communication difficulties)
  • Explore how other factors (such as living in a rural area, being in a same-sex relationship, immigration status or dependence on the perpetrator) might impact on the safety of mothers and children accessing services
  • Believe the person you are supporting and address any concerns they may have about being believed by others. Remember the perpetrator may have destroyed their confidence or self-esteem
  • Be aware of patterns of mental illness or psychosocial disability
  • Recognise that anger and distress are appropriate responses to violence and not necessarily signs of mental illness or relapse. (Once a person has a diagnosis of mental illness, there is a risk that all of her behaviour is seen in illness terms rather than related to the experience of violence)
  • Recognise the importance of emotional support and the impact of stigma on seeking help

To ensure people with disability have equal access to support, remember to:

  • Treat people with disability with respect and dignity
  • Give people with disability the time they require to communicate their story and identify options for their safety
  • Ensure people with disability are able to communicate in their preferred way (for example, using Auslan, Braille or pictograms, or via a communication assistant - making sure that this person is not the perpetrator)
  • Provide an accessible and comfortable environment
  • Do not make assumptions about a person’s ability to understand based on their appearance
  • Be familiar with local disability agencies to enable secondary consultation and ensure that women's and children's support needs are met
  • Provide disability awareness training for staff
  • Develop Disability Action Plans for the organisation.

Visit the 1800RESPECT Disability Support Toolkit for further resources.