Disgraceful reality: how society is targeting some of our most vulnerable

Opinion by Morgan McSmith

Let’s start with the basics.

Citizens gather to spread awareness for people with disabilities. Photo: Flickr Jamelle Bouie

One in five people in Australia are reported to have some form of a disability, so more than four million people. With about 20 per cent of the female population living with a disability you’d think violence against women with disabilities was brought to light more frequently, as it should. Facing double discrimination makes attaining adequate housing, health, education, vocational training and employment significantly harder for women with disabilities.

Unfortunately, the grim truth doesn’t stop there. Women with disabilities are 40 per cent more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than women without disabilities and more than 70 per cent of women with disabilities have been victims of violent sexual encounters at some time in their lives. Global studies even go as far as showing that women and girls with disabilities experience more intense and frequent violence. It also reveals their experiences with violence often last over a longer period of time and result in more severe injuries.

Specific disabilities make some women even more prone to experience some kind of violence throughout their lifetime. For instance, nine in ten women with an intellectual disability have been sexually abused.

What’s worse is that women with disabilities are far less likely to be believed when reporting any form of violence. A lot of cases simply go unreported or are inadequately investigated. Imagine that: Your sister, best friend, partner or daughter, assaulted and disregarded because of their disability; swept under the rug and moved along. This is our disgraceful reality. It’s time to shake the rug out and have a better look at what is occurring behind closed doors in houses, schools, residential care facilities, and workplaces.

Society has picked up the brush and painted a target on the backs of some of our most vulnerable. Why is that? And what needs to be done to prevent this?

Can you remember the last time you saw this issue slide across your news feed? I know I can’t and that’s a problem in itself, perhaps even the biggest one. Social issues such as this one need to be discussed openly.

But the simplest way to address it is equality. It’s essential that we promote at home equality as well as public equality. Negative stereotypes have continued to separate and discriminate women and girls with disabilities regardless of their rights as equal citizens. Children and Young People with Disability Australia found 52 per cent of students with disabilities have been bullied, compared to the 27 per cent of the general population. Among OECD countries Australia ranks the lowest for the relative income of people with disabilities.

We need schools to educate children on such issues and ensure every child’s needs are met. We need equal work rights and better access to health services for people with disabilities.

Violence and inequality. The two issues go hand-in-hand. Lack of equality produces more violence towards the women whose basic human rights are already deficient in comparison to society’s. We have seen this trend repeat itself throughout history time and time again. Let’s paint a better picture because a target doesn’t look good on anyone.

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