BRISBANE barrister Rebecca Treston QC has delivered a shocking snapshot of abuse, neglect and disadvantage suffered by disabled people living in Australia today.
“Every 10 minutes someone with profound or severe disability experiences physical or sexual violence,” Ms Treston, told the opening session of a new royal commission.
Ms Treston, a barrister assisting the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability said “the task before us is a large one … but it is crucial and overdue”.
The federal government announced the commission in April this year, largely due to the efforts of disabilities advocate Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, who said those behind the abuse must be held to account and their victims compensated.
Data available to the commission reveals that people with intellectual disability are 10 times more likely to experience violence than people without disability and three times more likely to be victims of assault, sexual assault and robbery compared with people who do not have an intellectual disability.
“We know that people with disability experience high rates of violence … in a 12-month period 330,400 adults with disability… experienced sexual or physical violence,” Ms Treston, a mother-of-four who attended Mt St Michael’s College, Ashgrove, said.
She became a Queen’s Counsel in 2013, and is the first woman to head the Queensland Bar.
“Women with a disability or a long-term health condition were significantly more likely to experience violence, sexual harassment and stalking,” Ms Treston said.
“These experiences of violence have a serious impact on the lives of people with disability and their feelings of safety and security in the community, whether or not they have themselves been victims of violence.
Ms Treston said in a 12-month period 674,000 people with disability avoided using public transport alone after dark because they felt unsafe, while more than one million avoided walking in their local area after dark.
“These statistics are even starker for First Nations people,” she said.
“Transformational change” is needed according to Ronald Sackville, one of seven commissioners who heads the new inquiry.
“We have to ensure that unheard voices are heard,” he said in an opening address.
A major Senate inquiry in 2015 heard from disabled people all over Australia that they had been neglected and exploited.
The inquiry report was clear and unambiguous when it reported back that the scale and extent of the violence against disabled people needed an urgent royal commission.
It has taken four years – too long, according to Commissioner Sackville.
“We do need to analyse why despite the multitude of reports and inquiries people with disabilities continue to experience unacceptable levels of abuse and why the objective of full and effective participation and inclusion in society is so difficult to achieve,” he said.
A submission from the advocacy group Disabled Peoples Organisations Australia points out there is currently no broad strategy that addresses the extent, the causes or impact of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“We live in group homes, boarding houses and aged care homes, go to special schools and work in sheltered workshops,” the organisation’s El Gibb told ABC online.
“Only 53 per cent of us have a job, compared with 82 per cent of non-disabled Australians, and many of us live in poverty.
“We often don’t have access to the internet, and can be socially isolated.
“This isn’t just another royal commission. It is the culmination of many years of work by disabled people to get recognition of the scale of violence against us.”
The royal commission has a wide remit, covering all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in all settings including in homes. It is taking submissions and is expected to take t