MARK COLVIN: Every week in Australia more than one woman dies at the hands of a current or former partner.
Today is White Ribbon Day, a national campaign to end violence against women.
It’s an important issue for all women, including disabled women who make up 20 per cent of Australia’s female population.
Sarah Sedghi reports.
SARAH SEDGHI: Violence and abuse against women with disabilities is something Keran Howe’s organisation has been dealing with for more than 15 years. But it’s hard work and resolutions are hard to achieve.
KERAN HOWE: What we know is that women with disabilities are targeted by offenders, by perpetrators, who know that it might be that a woman with a cognitive disability is less likely to be believed.
SARAH SEDGHI: She is the executive director of Women with Disabilities Victoria. She says that systems needs to better deal with violence against women with disabilities.
It’s a frustration shared by Dr Leanne Dowse from the University of New South Wales.
LEANNE DOWSE: We don’t know very much unfortunately. One of the big problems with understanding gendered violence in the context of disability is that none of our current data collection systems actually collect information about women with disabilities in particular.
SARAH SEDGHI: Dr Leanne Dowse works for the Stop the Violence Project. The project is working towards helping women and girls with disability subject to or at risk of violence.
LEANNE DOWSE: What we know for sure is that women with disabilities experience very high levels of domestic and family violence, and also sexual assault. They also have very specific forms of violence perpetrated against them because, for instance, women who live in institutions are vulnerable to violence and abuse from people who are in care relationships, and also from co-residents.
SARAH SEDGHI: The complexity of the issue doesn’t end there.
Therese Sands is from People with Disability Australia.
THERESE SANDS: Many women with disability talk about their experiences of violence. They talk about it as a daily lived experience in some cases.
SARAH SEDGHI: Dr Leanne Dowse has also found that speaking out against violence and abuse is never easy.
LEANNE DOWSE: One of the other things, of course, is that many women will have had very, very negative experiences in disclosing any form of violence with service providers.
SARAH SEDGHI: Justice for the crime of violence and abuse, particularly for some women, is limited according to sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.
ELIZABETH BRODERICK: Women, for example, with cognitive disability who – and the evidence is clear, they have a very high rate of sexual assault – but their access to justice, to actually get a conviction is very, very limited in Australia.
SARAH SEDGHI: Violence against women and women with disability in Australia is something Elizabeth Broderick says people are often surprised to hear about.
ELIZABETH BRODERICK: I travel around the country regularly. And I say to people, “Look, where do you think violence against women’s a problem?” And they’ll tell me Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea. Yes, they’re right, but the reality is it’s very much a problem right here in our own backyard.
SARAH SEDGHI: She hopes that Australia will soon be a safer place for all women.
ELIZABETH BRODERICK: The idea that as a woman in Australia that when you enter your home, you know, that for some women they enter it with bone chilling fear, the very place where they should be safe. You know I want to live in an Australia, and I want my daughter, my granddaughter to live in Australia where everyone can enter their homes safe in the knowledge that they will be okay.
MARK COLVIN: The sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick ending Sarah Sedghi’s report.
This article first appeared ‘ABC PM’ on 25 November 2013.