Jessica shares her experiences of telling people of the IPSV, who she told, how they responded, what was helpful and what made it difficult.
Leona Berrie, Manager of WWILD – Sexual Violence Prevention Association, discusses the specific challenges for women with intellectual disabilities seeking help for Intimate Partner Sexual Violence
This podcast contains information and stories relating to sexual violence and domestic violence against women and maybe triggering to survivors. They would just go, oh, this is too hard and if you don't have the support of the police, who do you have? I don't know. Yeah, I think the hardest part there was having to relate over and over again. I told my story 13 times to eight different services because there is no information sharing. The police officer was respectful, honest, and she didn't try to make me feel bad or undermine me. She just took it in, write it down, ask questions and then gave me an idea about what the process might be if I decided to move forward with anything.Speaker 2:
You have to really ask one person who sends you to another person who then sends you to another person who gives you a phone number. The solicitor was like, you should really consider going to the police, but I was scared about it cause I was like, what can I do about it? It's my word against his and no one will believe me. And there are lots of tales about how the police can be with DV.Speaker 1:
This podcast is part of a series which were created by women with lived experiences of intimate partner sexual violence and workers in the field of domestic violence and sexual violence, intimate partner sexual violence, also referred to as IPSV can be difficult to define and for every woman who has experienced it, it can mean something different. For the purpose of these podcasts, we have come up with a definition that we hope is inclusive to all women and all experiences intimate partner sexual violence. IPSV is any form of sexual assault that takes place within an intimate relationship, whether the parties are married or not. It includes rape, the use of force, threats or coercion to obtain sexual acts, shaming and not respecting a person's sexual or physical privacy. All of these can be used to gain power and control over a partner within an intimate relationship. The information provided in this podcast contains no advice and gives general information only. Listeners should not act on the basis of any material in this podcast without obtaining specific expert professional advice about their own particular situation. Then Nundah Community Support Group Incorporated expressly disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any persons with respect to any action taken in reliance to the contents of this publication. We hear from Jessica who talks about how people responded when she first told them about the sexual violence.Speaker 2:
I was seeing this guy for a couple of years and when the sexual violence occurred, I knew that was the time that I had to get out of the situation and out of the relationship. So before that it was a little bit of violence in the relationship over the couple of years. And then it was the sexual violence. And then that's when I realised that I had to change things. I told my sister and she reacted good by just being there when I needed her. Not long after I told my sister I went to get help from a counsellor. That was very good to talk to somebody that wasn't family, that is qualified in that area. And, but also it was hard to first initially talk about it. But after I did, I felt good for talking about it. I did tell another male friend and he was very into how I was feeling and my emotions, which was different to how my sister reacted. Which was better for me because it was more impacting on my emotions and how I was feeling at the time. And then after awhile he obviously was angry as well, but I liked telling him because he was more into my emotions. I'd like to be supported more by having more supports in different organisations and more support for my emotions for people to take me to places or counselling or appointments or to just be there to talk. And I, yeah, it was, I needed more supports in that way about my emotions and how I was feeling at the time. If you are someone who is going through sexual violence, um, the best thing would be to get help through a counsellor and to talk to someone you trust. If you're listening, you, your family or friend is going through this that you know of, maybe help them to take them to a counselling session or just to be there as a friend or family member. Just to listen. I didn't seek legal advice about the sexual violence because at the time I didn't feel that I had enough support around me and I needed that support to go through what I went through and the courts and that process. I needed more support at the time. And I said and for myself, I think at the time I just wanted to, kind of move on with the situation. I also didn't go to the court process because I knew it was gonna be a long process and yes. So I just wanted to kind of continue with my life and deal with the situation the best I could. Looking back now, I would not change anything that I did. But if I had more support at the time, I would have gone down the legal path and if I was feeling more better in my emotions and had more supports than I would have gone to do the legal side of it. So it's been a few years since the sexual violence occured, now, I'm getting, so continuing on with my counselling, it still plays on my mind sometimes. But getting help through counselling and talking about it really helps me and that's what I would like to tell people. That talking about it does really help even though it's hard at the time. I would like to tell people out there that might be listening to this, that to talk to people that you trust. Go seek counselling, something else. I would like people to know that they not alone, that it's a lot of people out there going through similar situation and yes your not alone. You've got lots of support.Speaker 1 :
We hope you've been able to take something away from story.Speaker 1:
We now hear from Lisa, a family support worker at the Nundah Neighborhood Center who shares her insights into working with and counseling women who have experienced intimate partner sexual violence.Speaker 3:
Im really going way back to my uni days, which is a few decades ago when I did my placement, my social work placement in a women's refuge and that was back in the late eighties. And even then, I guess at that time, intimate partner, sexual violence as we're calling it here today is not something that it wasn't named as such. And even though we knew that that was part of what happened in domestic violence wasn't really spoken about. So and when it did come up, it was something that was sort of a divide there and it would be like, okay, well this belongs to the Rape Crisis Centre then. So there was that divide between domestic violence and sexual violence. But moving forward, at my current place of employment where I've been for 26 years at the Nundah Neighbourhood Centre, I've been working with women over a long period of time around domestic violence and the idea or the understanding of intimate partner sexual violence, while it's something that's often talked about in individual counselling sessions in the work that I do, and it's certainly something that I sit alongside women and help them with some of the processing of some of their memories and some of the things that have occurred around sexual violence in their domestic violence for many years. It's not something that I actually initiated in conversations with women. It would be something I would respond to if they initiated it and I think on reflection, there are probably a lot of women out there who I had seen over years where sexual violence would have been a significant part of their experience, but because I didn't initiate it, they probably didn't talk about it. And that might have something to do with that sense of feeling, I guess a sense of shame that a lot of women talk about in regard to sexual violence and also thinking that they're the only ones out there that had experienced it.Speaker 1:
Next we hear from Leona Berrie manager of WWILD, Sexual Violence Prevention Association who discusses the specific challenges for women with intellectual disabilities seeking help for intimate partner sexual violence.Speaker 4:
My name is Leona and I've worked in the violence against women sector for eight years now. And I am the Secretariat for the Queensland Sexual Assault Network, which is a network of services around Queensland who are funded to provide sexual assault services. And I also currently manage WWILD, which is funded by state government to provide victim of crime support services and sexual assault services for people with an intellectual disability. I'm going to take this opportunity to speak a little bit more about the needs of people with an intellectual disability who might've experienced intimate partner sexual violence. To the best of our knowledge, the statistics will tell us there's a stat that's often quoted that's that 50 to 99% of women with an intellectual disability will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. That data is quite old. It's a combination of some studies, there from overseas. But even if we took that at its most conservative estimate, I think that's quite a shocking statistic and like intimate partner sexual violence more broadly, I think, we don't have good data generally about people's experiences of that. So, similarly for women with disabilities that the picture is, is unclear, but my personal suspicion is that it would be quite high. So things like the Australian Bureau of Statistics, conduct a personal safety survey and there are challenges with accessibility, for who gets to answer those questions, for women with disabilities more broadly. And particularly once you then start looking at women with an intellectual disability, I think there'd be real methodological questions over how those women are included in that data collection process. So I would say that generally women with an intellectual disability would receive fewer opportunities to receive information about violence more broadly. But then, especially once you drilled it down to something like intimate partner sexual violence. So having a language to describe what's happened is a barrier. Knowing that it's something that is not okay is a barrier that might not have ever been really explained or never had an opportunity to have a conversation that that actually isn't just part of a normal relationship or sexual relationship. Then knowing that there might be somewhere I could talk to about that, working that out, finding that number, and then having the guts to actually make that contact. So while those are probably all things that could be said about the general population as well, I think just that, that it's intensified. I think if you're starting from a point where you might not even have had some of those basic conversations to then launch that discussion around intimate partner sexual violence from, I think there's probably fewer, you know, I think some of these discussions about intimate partner sexual violence happen in kind of women's only spaces as well or like between women. And it's when you kind of get to those intimate discussions more generally that some of that stuff comes up. And I would say that women with an intellectual disability don't have quite the same opportunities to have those kinds of connections as well. So may miss out on some of that intimate discussion that can happen, where those issues kind of get touched on and experiences shared as well. So women with a cognitive or intellectual impairment, if they are going to make a statement to the police, our advice is always that they should be asking or their advocates should be asking for what's called a 93a interview. So that's the same kind of interview that, so it's trained police who would know, who also interview child witnesses. So it's the same kind of training. So the idea that it's more that it's a video recorded interview, that the style of questioning as much more open, allowing the person to tell the story, or you know, tell what happened without, with less reliance upon the format of a written statement, which is very much relies on a very sequential telling of events, which a lot of people with cognitive and intellectual impairment will find particularly challenging. So that would be one of the things that's not always easy to access. Some time, particularly if when you present to the police, you don't appear obviously disabled. You know, for lack of a better language around that, if it's not obvious to the person standing at the counter, a level of advocacy is sometimes required. But that we would always suggest that that's the best opportunity for people to give their best evidence. And then what happens is that if it does, then proceed to court. That is the person's primary testimony. The video gets played, they still have to answer questions in a cross examination on that, but they don't have to then retell the story, that's their first telling of that. And sometimes for people with a cognitive or intellectual disability, the retelling of the story is quite challenging because there's ways for that to then be interfered with or influenced that maybe experienced a bit more intensely than others. So similarly, once people are at court, hopefully whenever it's something to do with sexual violence more generally, but I think particularly for intimate partner sexual violence, we would be hoping and we would be advocating that they receive all the special witness provisions. So not requiring to be in the courtroom with the alleged perpetrator being able to give their evidence from a separate room or if those facilities aren't available, then at least the use of screens and things like that so that people don't have to look at their perpetrator whilst giving their evidence. So if you're a woman with a disability in particularly in an intellectual cognitive disability, WWILD would be an option for you, particularly if you live in Brisbane, Logan or Caboolture. And if you wanted to know a little bit more about wild, you could go to www.wwild.org.au So it's wild with two W's just to be a tricky, otherwise I would still encourage people to access the normal points of support. So that might be the local sexual assault service, that might be their local domestic or family violence support service or any of the normal sort of hotline numbers like your 1-800-RESPECT or your, DV connect type numbers because it might be that starting point to just begin to have that conversation without feeling pressured to take any steps at all really, or whether you want to or not. And I think it's really important to remember that there might be people who might be very encouraging of you or we might really want you to report. There might be people who are very discouraging and don't want you to report. But really ultimately that's choice is always going to sit with you and what you feel is best for you and what's safest for you. And safety should be at the heart of that decision. I think women with disabilities are not always aware of the supports that might be available. And I think the challenge for women with disabilities is that they, even if they are aware of the supports that are available, they may not have the right set of words to kind of access that service. So sometimes people may try to access the support points that the general population will, but due to some of those accessibility, if I don't come with the magic set of words to access that type of service, then sometimes that person on the other end of the phone or at the reception desk doesn't quite connect us to the right spot. So I think that that's a big barrier for women with disabilities. And a little bit, like I said earlier, I don't think women with disabilities have the same level of access to accessible information and education around violence more broadly. So again, having the language to describe what's happened, knowing that it's not okay knowing that there might be something that could be done about it and that there might be someone who could help me think about how to be safer. If carers, family members, friends or advocates become aware of the occurrence of intimate partner sexual violence. I would suggest that they can respond the way that they would to anyone. So that's really by starting by believing would always be the first piece of advice. And by supporting that person to think about safety, safety is always first. All the other stuff comes later. So if you don't feel equipped to support that person to think about those things, then it could be about accessing any of those normal sexual assault service, domestic family violence service points, or you could call wild on 3262 9877 as well. We'd be really happy to have those kinds of conversations over the phone with people no matter where you're located. And then I think it's about, yeah, helping them consider whether they'd like to talk more with somebody from a support service or a counsellor or something like that. But I guess always keeping safety at the core of those conversations and there'll always be something that people are already doing to keep themselves safe as well. So sort of looking at people's strengths. So I think professionals such as police lawyers, court workers, health workers, etc need to be aware and mindful when a woman with an intellectual disability is seeking help for intimate partner sexual violence, they are unlikely to come with that set of language. They're not going to use that term. They may not use the term sexual violence. People may not present as a neat perfect quote, unquote victim. And a little bit of time is going to be needed. Things usually take longer in this context and patience, is going to end a little bit of unpacking of exactly what has gone on. It's going to be required. I think generally if you're, whether it's a government or non government service, whether it's police or otherwise, I think some of those basics around accessibility are worth keeping in mind. So some of those things are how do people find out about who we are and how will they know how to contact us. Do we, are we a warm, welcoming place? Are we flexible in our approach? So if there's an example of that might be if there's a cancellation or no show, how do we handle that? Does that mean that that's it for that person? Can you know, what's the policies around that? Is there a capacity to meet people where they are? A big accessibility issue for lots of people, but especially if you're someone with a disability is transport, needing to get to a centre based service is often a challenge. Can we do things on the phone? Can we go meet someone face to face? All of those sorts of things that, how do we build in a level of flexibility that's going to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable members of the community as well. The final thing I'd say about that is thinking about our own, the language that we use. So we in service land in, in justice land, we use really big words and there's lots of people in the community who are gonna struggle to grasp that language. So there's a real, it takes a lot of practice. But really thinking about how we're speaking, are we using the absolute simplest way to describe something and are we concretising it as much as we can? So we use a lot of abstract concepts, concepts, even the, the notion of intimate partner sexual violence is a, you know, a whole bunch of abstract ideas kind of put together. So how do we actually break that down into the behaviours that are involved? So when we talk about sexual violence more generally, it might be, you know, makes you have sex when you do not want to, makes you send naked pictures to someone when you do not want to those sorts. So really trying to be mindful of the way we use our language and when we use big words, are we actually using a bigger word to describe lots of smaller concepts or behaviours and seeing if we can drill down our own use of those words to communicate more clearly. If a woman with an intellectual disability listening to this podcast and they have experienced intimate partner sexual violence and want to get some help, a good starting point for them would be finding someone who is safe that they trust to start that conversation. Someone who they feel confident is going to listen and believe them. And if they're not confident that they have someone like that in their lives, they could reach out to somewhere like WWILD or to a sexual assault service or a DV service in their region. But it's about finding that person who you trust, who's going to listen and believe.Speaker 1:
If you're listening to this podcast and would like additional support, please contact your local domestic violence or sexual assault service or for legal advice, a Community Legal Service. A transcript of this podcast can be found on our website. Please be aware that this podcast was produced in Queensland, Australia, and legal information provided is based on Queensland legislation and law. This podcast was made possible due to funding from Legal Aid, Queensland Community Legal Education Collaboration Fund. If you found this podcast useful and relevant, we encourage you to listen to the other four in this series.