Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
Home :

Beyond doubt: the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has completed research into the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime.

Launched by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay on 21 July 2014, the report entitled Beyond doubt: the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime is now available.

It documents the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime and looks at both police practice and the upstream and downstream factors that affect reporting.

You can download the reports below or view online as PDF

This information is also available in Braille and large font. Please contact communications@veohrc.vic,gov.au if you would like this information in one of these formats.


Background

This project was undertaken using the Commission’s research functions under section 157 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. It arose from concerns raised by the Commission’s Disability Reference Group that people with disabilities face particular barriers in seeking justice as victims of crime.

Equality considerations in policing are of particular concern to VEOHRC because:

  • people with disabilities may be more likely to experience violent and sexual crime than other people
  • barriers to reporting crime prevent victims from accessing other stages of the justice process
  • crimes against victims with disabilities are less likely to be successfully prosecuted.

This engages the Equal Opportunity Act, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, and other human rights protected at domestic and international law.

This project tested the hypothesis that police services are not currently delivered on equal footing for people with disabilities who are victims of crime, compared to those without disability.

The Commission aimed to:

  • explore what informs the initial contact between a person with disabilities and police when a crime is reported
  • gain a better idea of the environments in which crimes against people with disabilities occur and how this affects the reporting process
  • understand what is and isn’t working well through the entire process including reporting, police interviewing, investigations and prosecutions.

This included looking at the factors that might determine if a report is or is not made, including how the attitudes, experience and knowledge of police officers informs the interaction. VEOHRC also examined how interviewing and evidence gathering techniques, evidentiary requirements, disability, health and mental health service practices, court procedures and attitudes of the judiciary also affect police services.

The Commission conducted:

  • 27 in-depth case study interviews
  • 24 key informant interviews
  • 13 focus groups (61 people took part in focus groups, including 24 police members)
  • a confidential survey (63 respondents)
  • a legislative and policy review, and
  • analysed organisational submissions; data from the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Office of the Public Advocate and the Department of Justice Victims Support Agency.

Submissions

What we found

The level of crime experienced by people with disabilities in Victoria is substantial. This is in spite of – and sometimes the result of – systems that are designed to provide justice and safety. We know that some people are at greater risk, including people with intellectual and mental health disabilities, communication disabilities and women with disabilities.

Our study found that people with disabilities face significant and multifaceted barriers when it comes to reporting crime to police. These barriers are experienced across a number of settings and in multiple ways. For those living in environments that are socially isolating, additional barriers exist because these crimes occur behind closed doors.

When police have a good understanding of disability, believe victims and take the report seriously, higher levels of satisfaction with police practice are reported. What makes the difference is the quality of the first interaction between people with disabilities and police, and consistent follow-up by police members. This is largely informed by the skill and attitude of individual police members. However it is also determined by the overall culture of what is a very large and complex organisation

Victims of crime with disabilities must be able to access consistent support – when they need it and for as long as they need it across the justice process. There is a critical need to provide clarity on the roles and expectations of police working with people with disabilities – a victim cohort with specific needs.

Police often don’t know where to get assistance such as an interpreter or communication assistance, that would enable people with disabilities to report crime or they may decide early that there is ‘no point’ investigating because the case will not be successfully prosecuted. In some cases, police members refuse to accept reports or may assume the service will manage the investigation. In other cases, reasonable adjustments are not made.

The Commission’s study confirmed that other key parts of Victoria’s justice system are not built for accessibility. We found that while some progress has been made, basic adjustments are not always made to adapt court practices and facilities to meet the access needs of witnesses with sensory, physical, intellectual or communication disabilities.

The justice system does not operate in isolation. Police practice is affected by, and affects, practices in other systems. In regards to disability, health and mental health services, although there are departmental policies in place, there is a lack of clarity within services about when and how to undertake internal investigations, including issues of relying on a criminal threshold for taking action and substantiating allegations.

Building workforce capability in health and human services is necessary to achieve the aim of safeguarding rights, and for crimes to be treated as crimes. There is also a need to establish systems to minimise the risk of perpetrators of abuse moving between services.

The research raises the need for better coordination and governance across and within services systems, including across and within Victoria Police, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice.

Next steps

The report makes 16 recommendations to agencies across government, including Victoria Police, Court Services Victoria, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, the Judicial College of Victoria and the Office of the Public Advocate.

The Commission will be working with the Judicial College of Victoria to develop a resource for judicial officers to assist with meeting the needs of people with disabilities in court.

The development of the resource is one of two recommendations to the Judicial College of Victoria arising from the report. This resource will provide detailed guidance for judges, magistrates and VCAT members on possible adjustments and improvements to court processes, interactions and facilities to meet the needs of people with disabilities and allow equal participation.

Reference group

This project was supported by a reference group that included representatives of the Department of Justice Community Operations and Victims Support Agency, Victoria Police, Office of the Public Advocate (OPA), Disability Services Commissioner (DSC), Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALID), Women with Disabilities Victoria, Federation University, and the Commission’s Disability Reference Group.

More information

For more information about this project, please contact research@veohrc.vic.gov.au or call Julian Alban (Senior Advisor, Strategic Projects) on (03) 9032 3435