Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbbott and Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Manager of Government Business

Dear Tony and Mitch

On Monday, a Four Corners episode aired on ABC, where people with disability told us about being raped in care. They told us about coverups by the organisation, and failures to act on complaints. Other people with disability told us that this is a nationwide epidemic and that people living in institutional and residential care settings are being raped and abused or neglected every day.

You told us that it wasn't your responsibility, but you'd do something in 2019 when the NDIS had rolled out. It is someone else's responsibility, you say.

As of this morning, 3,417 petitioners disagree. They are calling for a national inquiry into violence, neglect and abuse against people with disability in residential and institutional settings. So are peak disability bodies, including People with Disability Australia, http://ymlp.com/z6IlfO, the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations. So is the former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes. So are thousands of people with disability and their families around the country.

It needs to stop now.

Why is it a Federal issue? There are many reasons, but the reason that people are still being raped and abused in care every day is because there has been no attention to this hidden shame from a Federal level. People with disability living in institutional settings are specifically excluded from the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women. There is no national coordinated legislation to prevent and address violence against people with disability. There is no independent, statutory national protection mechanism to protect, investigate and enforce findings related to abuse experienced by people with disability.

Even your own mechanism, the National Abuse and Neglect Hotline, stops us being heard. If we report abuse or neglect in a government funded service, we are referred back to that same government body to deal with the complaint 'locally'. And the data from that hotline is kept secret, and is not available to the public.

On Monday, a brave woman named Jules Anderson detailed how she was raped by a support worker whilst she was in care. This was not a one off occurrence by a malevolent individual - this happens every single day. Our children come home with injuries which are unexplained.

One friend has a fourteen year old daughter who does not use spoken language - she came home from her day program with a tear to her vagina so deep that it required surgery. Nobody was accountable. The daughter of another, who lives in a group home and has full time care, became mysteriously pregnant. No paternity tests were conducted. Another has a child who was raped on a school bus - another, a brother who comes home every month with bite marks, bruises, grazes caused from being dragged across a carpet. Nothing happened. There are thousands of stories every day, that we people with disability, parents and support workers hear about. Parents smother, starve or murder their children rather than put them into care, because they know what happens to people with disability living in institutional settings.

People living in boarding houses and other institutions like the Grand Western Lodge are being physically and sexually assaulted by staff and other residents, have died in appalling circumstances and have been denied basic rights. It is an aberration that we are being beaten and killed and raped - 90% of women with intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, did you know?

Waiting until 2019, until more people with disability have been beaten and raped and killed in care, is not an option. This is a national emergency that affects your most marginalised citizens. The United Nations treaty monitoring bodies have made strong recommendations to Australia in relation to urgently addressing all forms for violence against people with disability. You have a responsibility to act, and to act immediately.

We tell you now that we will bring our stories forward, person by person, and follow the example of Jules and the other people who had the courage to tell their stories. We stand together as parents, support workers and people with disability to bring Australia's hidden shame into the light and to right the wrongs that have been done to us. We call upon you and other decision makers in Australia to take immediate action to ensure that people with disability will no longer be raped, abused or neglected in care settings.
'We're here and we're here to stay. And you or noone is going to change that...get off your backsides. Do something about it.' - Craig McDonald, person with a disability and whistleblower against violence and abuse



Samantha Connor, disability activist, and the 3,470 supporters of the Petition for a National Inquiry into Violence, Neglect and Abuse against People with Disability in Residential and Institutional Settings

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


22 hours after the unexpected deaths of two horses at the Melbourne Cup, animal rights activists are calling for immediate changes within the racing industry to prevent any more unnecessary deaths.

One horse broke his leg. Another collapsed in the stalls, dying from heart failure. There are statements from the racing industry, campaigns with 22 metre billboards with the question ‘Is the party really worth it?’ and public outrage.

And somewhere in America, a six year old boy was thrown over a bridge to his death.

We are collecting stories of the murders of children and adults with disability in an almost dispassionate way this year. There’s little London, thrown 133 feet from the Yaquina Bay bridge. His mother called the police to tell them what she’d done. Across the ditch in the UK, a mother won the right to end the life of her disabled child, Nancy, in a country where euthanising non-terminally ill children is illegal. A Michigan woman, Kelli Stapleton, attempted to murder her 14 year old autistic daughter, Issy, by poisoning her with barbeque briquettes in a van. In Manhattan, a woman named Gigi Jordan stuffed painkillers and anti-inflammatories down eight year old Jude’s throat, killing him. Last year, in Australia, a woman was given a suspended sentence for starving her 29 year old daughter, Kyla Puhle, to death. 14 year old Alex Spourdalakis, stabbed to death by his mother. The list goes on.

Yet there are no billboards protesting the deaths of children with disability. No public outrage, except from a handful of disability and autism groups. And an upswell of acrimonious internecine rivalry between parents of children with disability and people with disability – many parents blame carer fatigue, lack of services and difficulty parenting children with disability, many people with disability argue that there is never an excuse for murder, when the alternative is to leave a child on a hospital doorstep or relinquish him or her into foster care.

Complicated, right? All discussions held from afar are complicated, and they are often held remotely and after the event and in the absence of real facts. Bystanders can only speculate from their own perspectives. I do not know if London’s mother was mentally ill, if she suffered from carer fatigue, if she considered that she had no other options. Likely, many of those assumptions are correct – many carers suffer from carer fatigue, and their mental health is reportedly poorer than any other population group. Options for relinquishment include foster care or an institution, where children and adults with disability are daily abused, neglected and put in situations where they are at risk of harm. Perhaps she did consider that she had no other options – but we do not know that. And are those considerations enough to throw your six year old to his death?

We know the facts. London was thrown, and he died. That his father had been ill – he has multiple sclerosis – and had lost his job. The family was in financial stress. We know the statistics, we know the issues, and we reiterate them over and over again in a dire prediction of further murders. Yet there are no billboards, no vigils – there is no outrage. We are more outraged by the deaths of two horses in a race in an Australian city than we are of the killings of children.

That, for me, is the outrage.

I think of little London being thrown to his death. He was carried by his mother along the bridge. Here is London. He had been diagnosed with autism. He was six years old.

Here is the bridge.

Can you picture it? His mother carried him along the bridge, hoisted him over the edge, and pushed him over the side. I cannot imagine what she said – if she was whispering words of comfort or hugging him, or whether she silently hoisted his body over, throwing him to his death. I can imagine what London felt, being hauled up by the person he trusted most in the world, looking down 133 feet to the water below. I wonder how long it took for him to hit the water, and what he thought before he did.

That, for me, is the outrage.

I think of Kyla Puhle. Her mother withdrew her day services and left her in a beanbag while she went to work. She was 29, and her parents withheld food or hydration from her until she starved to death. The police found her body in the same beanbag – she weighed twelve kilos.

I think of her mother, and I wonder what she said to the day services when she withdrew them. ‘Kyla won’t be coming here anymore’ – or, perhaps, ‘She’s taking a break.’ Angela was a high school principal. I wonder how she felt on that day her daughter died, sitting in her office whilst healthy children skipped around the school, laughing, with the auditory detritus of ‘normal’ ringing in her ears. I wonder if she had a silver framed photograph of Kyla on her desk, or photographs of her other children. I wonder if she turned that photograph face down.

Perhaps we are so reluctant to believe the unthinkable – that Mama, the loving person, the giving person, the one who has sacrified everything, would murder her offspring – that we manufacture excuses routinely and reject our outrage. Perhaps it is easier to believe in the myths – that a lack of services and support routinely causes mothers to murder, that nothing could cause a mother to violate a law of nature or rebel against instinct except the direst of circumstance. That children with disability are better off dead, anyway. ‘Altruistic filicide’ is forgivable, because you are saving your child from a fate worse than death - disability.

I can think of the murders of London and Kyla, and they fill me with horror. But that horror pales in comparison when I listen to the murder apologists reiterating their justifications for the killing of disabled children, or hear about juries who release murderers because they were ‘loving mothers’, or listen to the dearth of public outrage, the wild, howling silence in which the murder of a six year old child goes unmourned and barely noticed.

RIP Admire Rakti.