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Royal commission uncovers ‘barbaric’ restraining practices against people with disability


4 December 2019 at 4:12 pm
Luke Michael
A criminologist says people with disability are suffering violence and abuse in group homes


Luke Michael | 4 December 2019 at 4:12 pm


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Royal commission uncovers ‘barbaric’ restraining practices against people with disability
4 December 2019 at 4:12 pm

A criminologist says people with disability are suffering violence and abuse in group homes

People with disability are being strapped down and “chemically castrated” in group homes, the royal commission has heard.

Melbourne University criminologist Dr Claire Spivakovsky told a commission hearing on Tuesday that “barbaric” restrictive practices against people with disability were legal and prevalent, especially in Victoria.

These practices include chemical restraints – giving someone medication to make them more docile ­– and mechanical restraints to hold someone down against their will.

“[This medication] might be used to, in essence, chemically castrate someone, lower their libido,” Spivakovsky said.

“There’s mechanical restraint, so being restrained with straps and other sorts of mechanisms to chairs, for example, to beds, there’s physical restraint using someone’s body against someone else’s body and there is seclusion as well. So not very nice stuff at all.”

Spivakovsky questioned why there was no outrage over this use of restrictive practices, particularly given the strong public response to the image of Dylan Voller strapped in a chair with a spit hood at Don Dale youth detention centre.

She said what was happening to people with disability was a severe form of abuse.

“And if [it] happened in any other context or in relation to any other population, we would be outraged and we would be doing something about this,” she said.

“To me, when we give someone medication against their will, forcefully against their will, we strap them down and we hold them down, when we lock them in rooms – that is violence and abuse.”

Use of these restraints are granted through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and apply to people with intellectual disability who have previously exhibited a pattern of violent or dangerous behaviour and are deemed at risk of harming another person.

Through supervised treatment orders, people with disability are allowed to be chemically restrained, held in their room and forced to stay inside their group home unless they are supervised.

This week’s royal commission hearing in Melbourne is examining the experiences of people with disability in group homes – which are a form of supported accommodation for up to six people.

On Monday, the hearing heard stories of people with disability experiencing sexual violence and abuse in these homes.

People with disability and their families told the commission they felt unsafe in group homes and had little control over their lives.

Disability researcher Dr Patsie Frawley told the hearing on Wednesday that the model of group homes should be dismantled. 

She said it should be replaced with a model that allows people with disability to determine their own lives.

”[This could mean] looking to disabled people’s organisations… like in Canada, where these organisations do develop policies and practices and do run houses and do manage supports,” Frawley said.

“I think we should be looking at that and… operationalise what the UN Convention [on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] expects us to do around people with disabilities being at the centre.”

If you or someone you know needs support, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline on 1800 880 052.


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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