Saturday,25 November, was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the first of 16 Days of Action Against Gendered Violence. The last of the 16 days is Human Rights Day. In Australia, the first day is mostly celebrated as White Ribbon Day where men take responsibility for ending the violence against women.
What does this have to do with the NDIS you might ask? The NDIS is the premier Australian response to assisting those with disabilities to equally participate economically and socially in the community. But it appears to have put little thought into how the experience of domestic violence affects the outcomes for its participants.
In a Fact Sheet: Violence Against Women With Disabilities, prepared by Carolyn Frohmader, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA), for the Australian Civil Society Delegation to the 53rd Session of the Committee Against Torture, Geneva, November 2014, the following facts were outlined:
Women and girls with disabilities make up approximately 20% of the population of Australian women, equating to about two million people. Violence against women with disabilities in Australia is far more extensive than violence amongst the general population.
- Violence perpetrated against women with disabilities is significantly more diverse in nature and more severe than for women in general.
- Compared to their peers, women with disabilities experience significantly higher levels of all forms of violence and are subjected to such violence by a greater number of perpetrators.
- Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than women without disabilities, and more than 70% of women with disabilities have been victims of violent sexual encounters at some time in their lives.
- Twenty per cent of women with disabilities report a history of unwanted sex compared to 8.2% of women without disabilities.
- The rates of sexual victimisation of women with disabilities range from four to 10 times higher than for other women.
- More than a quarter of rape cases reported by females in Australia are perpetrated against women with disabilities.
- Ninety per cent of Australian women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse, with more than two-thirds (68%) having been sexually abused before they turn 18 years of age.
- Women and girls with disabilities have far less chance of being believed when reporting sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, than other women and girls.
There are two issues. One is that women with disabilities are even more likely to be victims of violence than their counterparts without a disability and the second is that the outcomes of violence can lead to disability, physical or psychosocial.
When violence leads to disability, either physical or psychosocial, then it is extremely important that all those who work in the NDIS, agency or non-agency take a trauma focused approach. Looking at the figures above, I find it deeply disappointing to know that most of these women, even if their history was known, would not be assessed for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People diagnosed with PTSD have a demonstrable psychosocial disability that often affects their ability to access the social and economic life of the community. Where it does, they are eligible to be participants in the NDIS.
In a laudable effort to not waste tax payer funds, the NDIS requires participants to first prove their disability and how it impacts on the applicants’ ability to participate in the social and economic life of the community. It then works to provide choice and control for the participant by requiring them to participate in the development and implementation of the plan to reach their life goals.
It is not the lived experience of women anywhere in the NDIS, that I have been able to ascertain, that their experience of DV has been prioritised as part of the planning process. There appears to be no recognition that requiring those who are living with the consequences of DV to assertively inform the NDIA of their experience and its consequences while managing the required service planning to reach their future goals, does not in any way fit a trauma informed approach and therefore excludes the majority of women in this situation from effectively participating in the process.
Women who are participants in the NDIS due to domestic violence, or who are participants whose ability to access the social and economic life of the community is complicated by experiences of domestic violence, are entitled to expect trauma focussed planning processes from their Local Area Coordinators when developing plans. They are also entitled to ask for service providers that have a clear understanding of domestic violence and can articulate a trauma focus. At the planning stage they should receive funding for Support Coordination to assist them to receive trauma focussed services without the need to repeat their story endlessly and be continually re-traumatised.
It appears that currently the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) does not have any formal recognition that female participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are more likely than the general population to living with the effects of violence. Nor has it considered what that means in terms of practice for itself or its providers, apart from requiring the usual standards.
The NDIA is a young agency administering a new and enormous scheme that is a breathtaking breakthrough in Australia. Much needs to be forgiven as it works overtime to develop policies and procedures to manage an unforeseen avalanche of work. But fundamentals such as how to respond to those who have experienced domestic violence need to be more overtly considered and addressed now, so as to underpin the best practice and optimal outcomes for all in future.
Recognition of the interplay between DV and disability and the fundamental role the NDIS must play in managing the process, if done well, will create better outcomes for thousands of Australian women and all those who care about them.