It is interesting to hear Judge Peter Boshier from the Family Court calling for a radical rethink of the way we deal with domestic violence in New Zealand. He cites cases of suicide because of the lack of support for victims. He also cites the lack of accountability of the perpetrators through programmes never completed.
Nowhere is the need for action more acute than in the disability community where reporting is low, and penalties for murder lighter than for murder of non-disabled people. I know of at least once case of suicide caused by bullying, and more attempts.
Domestic violence has a different meaning in the disability context. The nuances include the usual domestic and family violence which includes murder. It includes bullying in the workplace and in schools at all levels which is nonetheless violence if not domestic violence. All forms, including domestic violence, are experienced by disabled women and men.
Violence also occurs in institutions large and small. This is complicated as the perpetrators are sometimes in paid employment with service providers. If violence comes from other residents there are often few choices or alternatives for either party in their living arrangements or who they live with. But in either case it is the victim’s home. They have nowhere else to live or to escape to. Violence prevention services are beginning to take notice but their focus is quite limited and inadequate in the disability context.
As White Ribbon Day approaches I am struggling with this as I reflect on the unnecessary suffering many disabled people experience at the hands of others in a variety of situations. We have all got stories to tell, but to tell them is a frightening prospect. Many have been deeply buried for a long time and bringing them into the light of public scrutiny may seem like opening old wounds, It can also feel like inviting more pain from those who already think they have he right to intrude in disabled people’s lives in ways they would never consider appropriate for non-disabled people.
Victims who experience this include children and the most physically and psychologically vulnerable and fragile people in our communities.
This “ownership” of disabled people and their issues by others results in a fundamental and significant difference between violence experienced by disabled and non disabled people. It must be acknowledged and understood by anyone who wants to work in this area.
The Disability Clothesline therefore is a project whose time has come. It provides a medium for disabled people to safely tell their stories and perhaps find some healing by decorating tee shirts with their stories in whatever way they want. Supporters and those fortunate enough not to have a story to tell can sign a supporters’ sheet. The tee shirts and the sheet are hung on the clothesline for all to see, to provide education and promote action.
The project wants everyone to know that:
- Violence and abuse against disabled people is not OK
- It is OK to talk about it and share stories
- Violence towards and abuse of disabled people is a serious problem
- Action can be taken to prevent and detect it
- Everyone can do something about it
- As an issue it is just as important as other forms of violence
- Disability violence and abuse is part of the white ribbon campaign
We are hanging out our dirty washing in public. You can too. Nothing about us without us!