PWDA become aware of the following cases through its advocacy involvement with people with disability living in licensed boarding houses during the project.
Each of these case studies are examples of domestic violence incidents which involve physical violence; fear of, or threat of harm; verbal abuse; intimidation; financial exploitation or manipulation; withdrawal of activities, services; sexual abuse; methods of control, enforcement of restrictions; retribution; and misuse of power.
For the range of reasons stated in the Accommodating Violence report, none of these matters have been viewed or responded to, as domestic violence incidents. In fact, in the majority of these cases, advocates have faced many challenges in achieving satisfactory and timely progress on the resolution of these matters.
Each of these examples, is known to Ageing, Disability and Home Care as matters which have been referred to ADHC by PWD Advocates or come to the attention of PWD Advocates through processes such as the closure of a licensed boarding house which is co-ordinated by ADHC or as referrals from ADHC Boarding House Caseworkers.
- A person with disability is physically assaulted by a staff member when he is grabbed around the neck. This person alleges that as a result of the staff person squeezing him hard and roughly he was left with a flesh wound which needed to be dressed afterwards. This allegation has been referred to ADHC, however the staff member involved continues to work at the licensed boarding house.
- In a licensed boarding house where there is strong resistance to the involvement of external services, resident spokespersons advised advocates that none of the residents wanted to meet with an advocate and that no-one had any issues which need their involvement. Another resident however, expresses a choice to go against this ‘blanket approach’ and indicates they would like to meet an advocate. This person is immediately verbally intimidated by one of the resident spokespersons, who question them as to what they want to speak to an advocate about. During the meeting between the person and the advocate, this resident spokesperson interferes in the meeting by entering the meeting area and making an attempt to listen into the conversation. When they are asked to leave, the person again states “X knows she shouldn’t be talking to you!” The next time advocates visit this boarding house at the pre-arranged time, they are told that this person is not at home and therefore unable to meet with them. The resident spokespersons again maintain that the rest of the residents do not want or need advocacy support. Advocates are refused any access to the premises and no other residents are provided the opportunity to express this decision themselves. ADHC have been unable to resolve the issues of access by advocates to this licensed boarding house to date.
- Allegations are made by a woman with disability living in a licensed boarding house that she has been a victim of ongoing sexual assault by a co-resident. As a result of the intervention of a local service agency, a training program for a small number of licensed boarding house residents is funded and delivered. This training program aimed to provide licensed boarding house residents with the skills and knowledge to protect themselves from abuse and become more empowered in approaching issues around sex and sexuality.
- It is not until a person with disability was relocated from a licensed boarding house and perpetrators of abuse that they disclosed incidents of physical abuse and a culture of threats, intimidation and ‘co-resident monitoring’ which was rewarded by staff when residents ‘report’ on one another . It is well known that a person’s sense of safety can lead to disclosures of violence and abuse and is an important step for the person regaining their wellbeing.
- A woman with disability living in a licensed boarding house is physically assaulted by a staff member but only reveals this assault sometime after the incident when she is hospitalised for other health reasons and away from the licensed boarding house. Securing the victims safety is a well known factor influencing the capacity of the victim to deal with a disclosure of violence.
- Two men with disability are physically assaulted by a staff member who hits them in the face. They are also subject to other kinds of humiliation and abuse including an incident where one is forced to sit on the floor in front of other residents as punishment. The resident states they were so distressed by this treatment that they wet themselves, but were still not allowed to get up from the floor. Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control. In this case study the abuser uses fear, guilt, shame and intimidation which had a real and lasting effect on the victim who when recounting this incident to an advocate some time later, began to shake uncontrollably. It should also be noted that as in situations of family violence where children live in an environment where violence is occurring between adults, the other residents of this licensed residential centre are also at a high risk to experience violence and/or abuse either directly or indirectly. Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence has an extreme negative impact on other parties within the domestic setting that can result in emotional and psychological trauma. These incidents where only revealed by the residents when the boarding house closed and the residents were relocated to alternative supported accommodation. No perpetrator was brought to account as the boarding house had closed.
- Residents of a licensed boarding house leave and make their way to another town where they approach the Police. They tell Police they need accommodation because they don’t like being pushed around in the place they currently live in. The Police do not make any referrals for alternative accommodation and do not ask about what it means to be ‘pushed around’. Police call the boarding house and make arrangements for their return.
- Serious allegations of abuse including physical assault, verbal intimidation, and restriction of people’s access to the community, misused and over medication of residents are reported to ADHC and NSW Police. When Police visit the premises no-one comes forward to disclose any issues of concern. It is well known that people affected by domestic and family violence may feel anxious reporting acts of violence and abuse committed by a partner, spouse or family member to police officers and it can take some time for persons subjected to domestic and family violence to break their silence and report incidents. For people with disability who have little knowledge of their rights or positive experience of being treated with respect, an expectation of disclosure without significant support and options for alternative accommodation and support is unrealistic. Confusion, fear of retribution, or even concern for the repercussions for the person who uses domestic and family violence can further contribute to this hesitation.
- A man with disability suffers verbal and emotional abuse from staff, which undermines his relationship with family members by telling him they are a burden to and hated by their family but the staff at the licensed boarding house love him like he is their family and that he would be on his own if he was ever to leave. Emotional abuse is often considered a covert form of domestic violence and abuse, so insidious that many people aren’t able to recognise they are a victim. The kind of emotional abuse described in this case study is being used to control, degrade and humiliate the person. It is done to try and isolate the person from their key means of support, their family. It is intended to cause the person to doubt themselves and their family’s intentions and make them dependent on the abuser.
- A compulsory activity is offered to residents of a licensed boarding house. A resident is told they will be charged a large sum of money to participate in for this activity. The resident states that they do not want to participate in this activity and as a result of making this choice the person is evicted. With assistance from ADHC and advocates this person is relocated to alternative accommodation.
- A licensed boarding house has a culture of resident to resident violence which commonly includes intimidation and standover tactics for cigarettes and money. Physical violence between residents is also commonly fuelled by alcohol abuse or exacerbated by poor mental health.
- A woman with disability who lives with her husband in a licensed boarding house is seriously assaulted by him. He is evicted by the licensee as a result. She has no access to domestic violence or support services and she lives in fear of his return. She has little choice about moving from the boarding house as the licensee controls her finances. She is fearful of retribution from the licensee if she raises any concerns about how her money is managed.
- A female resident tells a support worker that a staff member of the boarding house assaulted her. The staff member approached her whilst she was seated at the dining room table with other residents and from behind, lifted her t-shirt up and off over her head, leaving her naked and exposed to everyone present. She said she was humiliated but that she did not want the support worker to do anything about it because the perpetrator could cause further trouble for her and/or kick her out. This boarding house was her home, and she had no other accommodation options.
- “He (another resident) came up to me in the hall way and grabbed me. He tried to kiss and hug me. He wants to be boyfriend and girlfriend but I don’t want to”.
- “He (another resident) comes into my room and stands over me when I am lying in bed”. The woman telling this story has a black eye which she doesn’t explain.
- A resident discloses concerns to a disability service provider about one resident physically assaulting other residents. The service provider reports these concerns to ADHC. The boarding house manager hears of this and takes punitive action preventing resident’s access to future planned outings by this service provider. Instead he holds a ‘house meeting’ for residents where he demands to be informed of who had leaked this information.
- On a visit to a licensed boarding house last year, a woman resident said to a disability service worker who was visiting residents , ‘I’m ok talking to you, aren’t I? ‘Cause I’m not saying anything about this place, I won’t get into trouble, I’m just talking to you about my family not anything else’. During this conversation the resident appeared to be continually scanning the backyard for who was coming and going, possibly listening, and made this comment to the worker when she saw staff come out into the back yard for a cigarette.
- The manager of the LRC sat in the background with their arms folded across their chest watching and listening into the conversation of disability support workers with residents. The disability worker reported feeling their presence and intimidation over both themselves and the residents.
Debbie Kennedy accepts her 10-year-old son can be difficult to handle on occasion.
He’s autistic and has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
There are times when he gets frustrated, angry and stressed. Equally, she says, he can be calmed down quickly with simple interventions.
“He’s very intelligent,” says Kennedy.”He could tell you anything about any car. He loves Top Gear . . . when he does act out, I can control him with one hand or distract him.”
But she says the past past two years have been marked by a sharp deterioration in his behaviour. She puts much of this down to what she says was the overuse of seclusion at school to control his behaviour.
In all, she estimates he was placed in a seclusion or “time-out” room on more than 30 occasions over a two-year period.
While in most cases she was told they were for short periods of time, she maintains that on a several occasions he was placed there for up to two hours at a time.
“In order to help a vulnerable child like Dylan manage his emotions and control his behaviour, he needs support, guidance and explanation,” she says.
“If he’s isolated from others, without guidance or support, I can’t see how that helps. In fact, it’s a more frightening experience – especially for a child with disabilities.”
Benincasa Special School in Blackrock, Co Dublin, said that while it was not in a position to comment on Dylan’s individual case, the school had always acted “properly and in accordance with good practice at all times”.
In line with its policies, seclusion was only ever used as a measure of last resort and where a child was disruptive to the point of posing an imminent danger to themselves or others.
Kennedy, however, feels the school was too quick to seclude her son and says he regularly came home in tears after being placed in the room, or isolated from the wider class.
“He would spend hours crying, saying how much he wanted to die and felt he wasn’t good enough.”
She also feels he was placed in the room on foot of relatively minor incidents, like throwing a pencil against a blackboard or refusing to do work.
School records, however, show there were occasions when he kicked or punched staff. On one occasion, he is said to have raised a chair in the air, before it was taken from him.
The seclusion room – based on photographs taken by Dylan’s mother – is a small bare room with no furniture.
There is a window with metal bars on the outside. The door has no handle on the inside and there is a peephole for staff.
The school said a staff member was present outside the seclusion room, monitoring the student, at all times.
“The seclusion room is designed with regards to the health and safety of the student in question. The room does not contain certain furniture as such items are often considered safety hazards to both the student or staff members,” it said.
Kennedy ended up withdrawing permission for her son to be placed in the room. Afterwards, she says she would receive phone calls from 9.10am onwards asking her to collect him.
He ended up being taught at home by his mother for long periods and resumed school on a limited basis.
She is careful to say Dylan enjoyed several successful years at his special school prior to this and many staff went out of their way to help and support him. “I couldn’t speak highly enough of them.”
But she feels the use of seclusion has left a damaging legacy which Dylan is still coming to terms with.
“He needs therapy after all that’s happened. We can be out having fun and he’ll mention what happened to him,” she says.
“He is the most caring and affectionate boy. He’s clever and funny and has a huge obsession with cars. I wouldn’t change him for anything.”