5 Dec 2022

'Repeated and catastrophic failure', Abuse in Care commissioner says as study published

9:54 am on 5 December 2022
Paul Gibson - Commissioner of Royal Commission of Inquiry in State and faith-based care in Aoteoroa New Zealand between the years 1950-99.

Commissioner of Royal Commission of Inquiry in State and faith-based care in Aoteoroa New Zealand Paul Gibson. Photo: Abuse in Care

Repeated and catastrophic failure constituting systemic abuse.

This is the view of a commissioner of the Royal Commission into historical Abuse in Care in both state and faith-based institutions.

The stories of abuse inflicted on neurodiverse people and those with disabilities have been released today in a study by the Abuse in Care inquiry, which highlights repeated failures by carers to protect them.

The study, called Tell Me About You, includes the stories of 16 abuse survivors and it sheds new light on the abuse.

The report found failure in the care of disabled and neurodiverse abuse survivors.

''Rapes that go uninvestigated. Bashings. Solitary confinement, and other kinds of abuse almost specific to disabled people. The loss of their identity through the loss of records. The neglect of their learning needs. Physical, medical neglect, medical abuse.''

Not a lot had changed over the years, the commissioner said.

''The report talks about communities, society as a whole being both complacent and complicit about the abuse of disabled people and people with mental health issues.

''We can't accept that this was just an issue of the past. We can't accept there is nothing we can or should be doing now.

''We don't express the same outrage as a community as we did when we saw it [abuse reported] in youth justice facilities. Ministers don't get involved talking about the potential closure of such facilities or how the community needs to think and provide solutions. How society as a whole needs to act to support people who are at risk in our communities who are disabled people.''

Matthew Whiting is disabled and is a survivor of abuse in care.

''I was in hospital when I was 13 until I was 21.''

He described some of the days he was in care as okay and others not - because of inappropriate behaviour from some carers.

''Holding my hand and kissing me in a sexual way and telling me they loved me.''

Whiting said he had no choice over where he was placed and felt vulnerable most of the time.

The Donald Beasley Institute carried out the research for the Royal Commission, and director Brigit Mirfin-Veitch said without a doubt abuse in all its forms was a real feature of the lives of many disabled people.

''It was often pervasive, and it was often violent.''

Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch speaking at the Royal Commission into abuse in care hearings.

Donald Beasley Institute director Brigit Mirfin-Veitch Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Disabled and neurodiverse people should never have been put in such a vulnerable position, she said.

''The way that they were positioned by individuals, by communities and by society led to environments and contexts where abuse was able to occur unchecked.'

"The abuse and neglect experienced by survivors in institutional care are associated with profound negative physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual outcomes that can impact practically every facet of life.''

Disabled Persons' Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker said the report underscored what people with disabilities already knew, that their lives were valued less than the lives of others.

"That does create a vulnerability. It is not that vulnerability because we are lesser beings, we are not. It's a vulnerability because that is the way other people think about our lives and the values they don't place on our lives often.''

Prudence Walker, Chief Executive Disabled Persons Assembly

Disabled Persons' Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker Photo: Prudence Walker

People with disabilities were less likely to be believed if they complained of abuse, she said.

''If you are in an environment that these sort of things are the norm and have happened to a whole lot of other people as well, you internalise a whole lot of that stuff and even if you are feeling bad about it or you think it is not right, you start to question yourself.''

People with disabilities were still experiencing abuse today, Walker said.

''Obviously, [it] has progressed during that time but that is not to say that terrible things are not happening still and that is not good enough.''

Walker said neurodiverse people and those with disabilities were eagerly awaiting the final report from the Royal Commission, which is due in June 2023.

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