“Sickening” incidents of sexual violence, abuse and neglect in group homes have caused deep psychological scars for people with disabilities and their families, a hearing of the disability royal commission has been told.
On Monday the royal commission into the abuse of people with disability considered if living in a group home created a greater risk that residents would be subjected to violence, abuse or exploitation.
Counsel assisting the commission Kate Eastman, SC, opened the hearing in Melbourne by describing sexual assaults and other incidents at Yooralla group homes, which were exposed in 2012 and became a catalyst for action in Victoria.
In 2012 Vinod Johnny Kumar was charged with multiple counts of rape and other sexual offences against three women and one man with disability who were in his care in a Yooralla group home. The judge described his offending as “sickening”.
Kumar, who was employed as a disability support worker, sexually assaulted or raped the women multiple times, often when he was supposed to be performing intimate personal care such as showering. He once begged a victim not to tell anyone “or my mum will drop dead”.
Two of the women did not tell anyone about Kumar’s behaviour because they did not think they would be believed, and they feared Kumar – who one described as “aggressive, bossy and a bully” – would retaliate. The third woman exposed his behaviour, which was merely described as “sexual harassment” in the home’s incident report.
Kumar initially denied doing anything wrong but eventually pleaded guilty to 12 offences and was imprisoned for 18 years with a non-parole period of 15 years.
The commission also heard from Ms A, the mother of a 34-year-old woman who has an intellectual disability, uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal. Ms A described her daughter as a happy person who loves to spend time with family, socialise and go swimming. She needs 24-hour support and lives in a group home near Melbourne, her mother said.
Ms A told the royal commission her daughter’s care in her group housing was negligent on a number of occasions. One day when Ms A went to visit she discovered her daughter’s wheelchair parked under an airconditioning unit and her daughter shivering from cold. Ms A could not find any staff in the home.
I struggled violently … and I yelled at him to stop but he didn’t listen.
Group home resident Dr Peter Gibilisco
When Ms A complained to the Disability Services Commissioner an investigation was conducted, but the commission would not tell her about the outcome.
The commission also heard from Dr Peter Gibilisco, who has written books about the politics of disability and lives in shared, supported accommodation in Melbourne.
Dr Gibilisco said moving into shared accommodation had left him with a sense of personal and social loss and he had suffered two “horrifying” incidents in which a staff member tried to sexually assault him in his bedroom at night.
“I struggled violently … and I yelled at him to stop but he didn’t listen, nor did he communicate back with me in any way,” he said.
Dr Gibilisco reported to police, who he said were very understanding, but did not want to take legal action himself. He was very disappointed when the service provider which runs his group home (which cannot be named) did not.
Yorta Yorta woman Jane Rosengrave, who has an intellectual disability, told the commission that when she lived at Pleasant Creek School (later Training Centre) in Stawell, “I feel like our rights were taken away”.
The school was an institution for children with disabilities. She said: ” [Even the residential houses] were like little institutions. We never had the choice at all, the staff were the ones with the thinking power for us”.
Now living alone in her own unit, Ms Rosengrave said she felt “as free as a bird”. “I can speak up for myself, I’ve been a fighter, I teach other people that they have got a voice to be heard, not to be ignored.”
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