Hundreds of disabled Victorians have reportedly been abused by their carers, with allegations this year of serious sexual assault and chemical restraint of mental-health patients.
Leaked state government documents obtained by Fairfax Media have revealed there were more than 300 reports of disability services staff assaulting clients between July 2012 and December 2013.
Also in the past year the Office of the Public Advocate received hundreds of calls alleging abuse, neglect or violence against vulnerable people.
A staff member has been accused of slapping mental-health patients across the face and an autistic woman with anxiety has been allegedly sexually assaulted in a disability facility.
Twenty of the ”most serious” cases were referred to Public Advocate Colleen Pearce, who said the organisation was beginning to see a better response from some services. ”A zero tolerance to abuse, neglect and violence is needed,” she said.
Disability Justice Advocacy executive officer Trevor Carroll said he feared the number of staff to client assaults within the disability sector could be significantly underestimated, because victims were too scared to come forward.
In one case reported to the advocacy group, a woman in her 50s was ”digitally raped” by a staff member while showering in a government-owned group home.
Mr Carroll said an incident report was made after the woman told another worker what happened, but that report was later rewritten by a supervisor. He said the worker who allegedly raped the woman was then transferred to another home and the matter was not referred to police.
In 2012-13, the Department of Human Services received 1790 category one incident reports in disability services, up 5 per cent from the year before. New data from 2013 also shows the number of these serious incidents, which include death, serious injury and serious sexual or physical assault, are likely to rise again this year.
Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge said these increases could be attributed to a change in reporting.
”Following a March 2011 Ombudsman’s report that highlighted Labor’s failures in addressing the abuse of disability clients in state care, the Coalition government introduced a range of new measures,” she said. ”One of these measures was a significant strengthening of the incident reporting and accountability system. As a consequence, there has been an increase in the number of incident reports, with allegations that never would have come to light under Labor’s inadequate system being reported and addressed.”
The minister said any allegations of assault were referred to both police and the Disability Services Commissioner.
The Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability said they were not confident that DHS ”has a strong handle on the level of staff to client abuse”.
Opposition community services spokeswoman Jenny Mikakos said the push by Ms Wooldridge to have disability services run privately would only exacerbate problems.
This article first appeared on ‘The Age’ on 1 April 2014.