#HearMeToo: Violence against women and children with disability

By Emily Newton, 23 November 2018 , Comments

A staggering one in three women experience violence in their lifetime, with women and children with disability more at risk of experiencing abuse and neglect than the general population. Sunday 25 November 2018 marks the UN Women’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This year’s theme is ‘Orange the World: #HearMeToo’.

Northcott has a zero tolerance to abuse. Our Senior Safeguarding Practitioners share why it’s important to understand the complexities of violence against women and children with disability.

What are your roles in Northcott?

The purpose of the Senior Safeguarding Practitioner roles at Northcott are to assist staff in responding appropriately, and giving guidance with alleged or actual occasions of abuse and neglect involving our customers/staff. The role has the opportunity to create educational campaigns against abuse and neglect and demonstrates Northcott’s zero tolerance to abuse.

What are the biggest issues you see in these roles for women and children?

Domestic violence (DV) and neglect are two of the biggest issues being experienced by female Northcott customers in relation to violence. Children are especially vulnerable to these issues as they don’t have the resources or ability to leave the situation or access supports.  Common issues that contribute to violence against women and children include gender equality and cultural considerations, such as language barriers and economic reasons.

Why is it important to understand these challenges?

Women and children with disability are more at risk of experiencing abuse and neglect than the general population. Once you understand the challenges, you can begin to recognise how best to support someone and apply empathy in creating environments and opportunities to actively support someone with their situation in line with their individual need.

It is important to understand that some customers may have a history of trauma due to past abuse that can have an impact on their behaviour. Having disability on top of being subjected to DV is another barrier for individuals. Like every woman subjected to DV, they need to have access to information and education to make informed decisions on how best to look after themselves and/or children.

How does violence affect people with disability compared to people without disability?

Some people with disability are more vulnerable than others. People who are vulnerable to experiencing abuse include people who are non-verbal and therefore sometimes cannot disclose violence, and people with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities who don’t have an understanding that abuse is wrong. There is also greater difficulty prosecuting perpetrators/persons subject of an allegation at times when the alleged victim has a disability.

How can we try to best support women with disability who may have experienced abuse?

Building rapport and trust, being present, listening, and being respectful in a professional capacity are all incredibly important.

Other tips include:

  • Offering and providing information for a person who has been subjected to DV to make an informed decision around what they need to do next
  • Equally respecting their decision if you do not agree or understand it
  • Collaborative help – are there other professionals that could help?
  • Avoid overuse of questions and use inclusive language.

If someone has disclosed violence or abuse always:

  • Listen to what she has to say
  • Believe her
  • Take the abuse seriously
  • Help her understand the abuse is not her fault
  • Help her to recognise the abuse
  • Offer practical assistance
  • Tell her about services available
  • Respect her right to make her own decisions.

Northcott offers mandatory Safeguarding training for all staff. Northcott’s Safeguarding and Response Team is available 24/7 and can provide support to staff or customers who are experiencing abuse and neglect.

Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 65 64 63
National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
FaCS Child Protection Helpline: 132 111


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