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Australian report urges inclusive domestic violence services for disabled women

Domestic violence bruising on the face

A new report from People with Disability Australia (PWDA) has highlighted the significant barriers women and children with disability face when accessing domestic and family violence services. The report, produced as part of the national peak body’s Building Access Project, outlines the roadmap forward to ensure these essential services are safe, inclusive and accessible to all women and children with disability.

The research involved in-depth interviews with women and non-binary people who have lived experience of disability and domestic, family and sexual violence (DFSV). Service providers engaged in the Building Access Project were also interviewed and the wider DFSV sector surveyed as part of the research. Concerningly, it revealed 71 per cent of women with disability have not felt welcome when accessing domestic and family violence services.

However, the report demonstrates initiatives that educate and inform providers around inclusion and accessibility – such as the Building Access Project – offer a solution. Of the service providers who took part in the Building Access Project, 100 per cent reported a significant increase in accessibility. The most substantial change was in attitudinal accessibility, influenced by critical training delivered and informed by women with disability with lived experience of violence.

PWDA President Nicole Lee said the report provided compelling evidence about the challenges and barriers within the current domestic and family violence sector for women with disability.

“Women with disability face a 40 per cent higher risk of domestic and family violence. This report highlights that as we advocate for the rights and safety of women with disability, its crucial services evolve in how they operate and support them so there’s no wrong door.

“PWDA’s Building Access report is a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done. It’s unacceptable that women with disability are unwelcome, harmed and discriminated against when seeking support for domestic and family violence. We must act now to ensure these services are inclusive and accessible,” Ms Lee said.

The key findings of the report revealed that of the women with disability interviewed:

100 per cent have experienced fear and mistrust of services and authorities.

71 per cent would avoid reporting incidents of DFSV to police in the future.

57 per cent avoided seeking support due to negative past experiences including dismissal, discrimination and experiencing further harm.

28 per cent reported fear of having children removed from their care if they accessed services.

PWDA is calling for additional funding for the Building Access Project to ensure its national rollout in response to the report.

“We cannot allow disabled women experiencing violence to feel unsafe, unwelcome and unsupported any longer. Ongoing funding and a national rollout of the Building Access Project accompanied by financial resources to support somebody with the services they need in a crisis is the only acceptable response to this report. This would demonstrate a clear commitment from all levels of government to address the barriers and challenges women with disability face when accessing domestic and family violence services,” Ms Lee said.

Karina Noble, Project Manager of Building Access at PWDA, emphasised the positive impact of the project and echoed the call for continued funding.

“Over its two phases the Building Access project has significantly improved how domestic and family violence services operate. It has supported service providers to embed inclusion into every part of their work by providing guidance on low-cost and easy ways to start increasing accessibility.

“While our funding is ending there’s still a clear need for the project and appetite from service providers to take part. Continued funding from the NSW Department of Communities and Justice and a national rollout would get us closer to a domestic and family violence landscape that is safe, accessible and inclusive of all women with disability,” Ms Noble said.

With the release of the report coinciding with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Nicole Lee emphasised the need to challenge ableist attitudes and systems and ensure women escaping violence have access to the resources they need in a crisis.

“On the eve of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, this report stands as a reminder of the need to confront and dismantle ableist attitudes and systems that perpetuate violence against women with disability. Building Access is a vital piece of the puzzle and offers a roadmap for how domestic and family violence services can undertake that change themselves, but it has to go hand-in-hand with financial support for women with disability escaping violence.

“Women with disability don’t just carry the cost of family violence, we also carry the cost of disability specific needs as well. Alongside inaccessible and unwelcoming services comes the loss of support networks, the need to replace broken equipment and equipment we need for our daily lives like shower chairs. Financial resources can make the difference between staying and leaving or life and death,” Ms Lee said.

The Building Access Project was funded by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice under the Domestic and Family Violence Innovation Fund.

Download the full report at pwd.org.au

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