Women and girls with disabilities find disclosure difficult, says support service

Concerned: Laurel House chief executive Kathryn Fordyce appeared as a witness in the royal commission and says barriers to disclosure exist.
Concerned: Laurel House chief executive Kathryn Fordyce appeared as a witness in the royal commission and says barriers to disclosure exist.

Disability support workers, service providers and the general community are completely unaware of the high rates of sexual assault occurring against people with disabilities, a royal commission has heard.

Further, that current systems and lack of supports make it extremely difficult for women and girls to disclose their experiences.

A public hearing for the Royal Commission into the Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was held this week, specifically looking at family and sexual violence against women and girls with disability.

Data presented to the royal commission has shown that 90 per cent of women with intellectual disability have experienced sexual abuse, and 68 per cent of women will be subjected to that abuse before they reach the age of 18. Further, that two in five women with disability have experienced physical violence after age 15.

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Laurel House chief executive Kathryn Fordyce said a lack of discussion and education about sex and sexual violence with women and girls with disabilities was a big issue.

Ms Fordyce said sometimes sexual vocabulary was withheld from communication devices making it difficult to discuss and disclose.

"When you start talking to [disability support organisations and support workers] about how common it actually is, and that actually you should almost assume that someone with a disability has been sexually assaulted ... that opens up people's eyes that they need to do something differently, and they actually need to learn more about this, and be open to discussions with their clients," Ms Fordyce said.

"As a speech pathologist, I am constantly concerned about the fact that we don't create environments that are conducive to communicating about sex and sexual violence ... that are conducive to allowing people with disabilities to disclose."

She said the absence of anonymity in smaller, regional communities when accessing supports could also act as a barrier to disclosure.

This story Royal Commission hears of barriers preventing women from disclosing sexual violence first appeared on The Advocate.