'Horrified but not surprised' - advocate reflects on latest disabled domestic abuse stats

By Whatitiri Te Wake

Dr Huhana Hickey is a prominent and outspoken disability advocate and became disabled as a result of a domestic violence incident in the 1990s. Although horrified, she is not surprised at Auckland University's new findings on the severity of domestic abuse suffered by disabled people.

She recounts the time she was abused by her former partner, an event that she says sentenced her to a wheelchair.

“I'm a survivor of domestic violence because my partner knocked me unconscious back in 1996 and caused massive brain injuries and that's not uncommon."

“I already had MS and I was showing signs of progression but it put me in the wheelchair.”

Although she says the findings of a new study by Auckland University are alarming, she’s confident this doesn’t paint the full picture. Instead, she says the situation is far worse

No help for disabled men

“Abuse is rife among disabled and vulnerable seniors and it's time we got real about that. We focus on refuge, we focus on domestic violence but we don't focus on systemic violence not just by family members but by carers,” she said

Findings show that 40% of disabled women experience domestic abuse compared with 25% of non-disabled women.

And 34% of men with disabilities experienced five or more episodes of non-partner physical violence compared with 14% of non-disabled men.

“There's no one supporting us when we call out violence as well. Refuge centres are not accessible, they don't take men, if you've got a disabled man, who needs to be safe you can't get them safe, there's nowhere for them to go.”

Hickey says the time has come for true representation from the disabled community to implement change

“Disabled have to lead the process. Until we lead our own processes we've got able-body people making decisions for us and, frankly, they're failing us quite badly”

Disability Issues Minister Carmel Sepuloni wasn't available for an interview today but in a statement said: the government, through the Joint Venture for Family Violence and Sexual Violence, was running a Violence Prevention Needs in Diverse Communities project.

“This is focused on developing community-led prevention initiatives for disabled people,”the minister said.