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Australia: Disabled rape 'too hard to prosecute'

Publish Date: 27 Jun 2011
Source: Herald Sun
By: Miles Kemp

SOME suspected rapes are not even investigated because police believe cases involving severely disabled victims are too hard to prosecute, it has been revealed.

Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner  Leena Sudano told The Adelaide Advertiser she and the Public Advocate, John Brayley, had met senior police officers to discuss details of recent cases of rape and serious sexual assault against the disabled that had not been investigated because police believed the current court system offered no chance of conviction.

Ms Sudano said there had been five cases in the past year and, in the worst case of abuse in care, the victim had become pregnant with the suspected rapist's child but the man had disappeared before any action could be taken against him.

"Not one (of the five cases) resulted in any serious police action because of a lack of corroboration or the extent of the impairment of the alleged victim," she said.

"We have to be careful that we don't view this as so depressing and so hard that we don't strive for something better."

"about one in every 15 people who apply for work with disabled and old people are found to have a criminal record"

Ms Sudano was commenting on figures obtained by The Advertiser under Freedom of Information legislation that showed about one in every 15 people who apply for work with disabled and old people are found to have a criminal record when the AFP complete a police check.

Commissioner for Victims' Rights and former police officer Michael O'Connell said rapists often knew they would not be investigated or prosecuted if they attacked the severely disabled.

"People with severe disabilities are prone to become victims of crime - often because offenders know they can commit their crimes with impunity," he said.

Ms Sudano said the prosecution of people who sexually assaulted the disabled was as hard as it was to prosecute domestic violence crimes 25 years ago.

"We have a reluctance of police forces to even take steps to do the forensics and interview people once they know the person has a serious disability or impaired capacity," she said. "The police have taken the view that because the client is impaired it wouldn't be possible to corroborate what is alleged.

"We have not even begun to come to grips with how to deal with this. The same used to be said of children, 'they are unreliable, you can't believe what they say'."

Ms Sudano said senior police had made a commitment to study new techniques that would better bring the perpetrators to justice.

She said there must also be a register of care workers to help track those with unsuitable pasts.

Mr O'Connell said the process of failing to investigate meant the disabled were "revictimised because of their disability".

"As crime victims, people with disabilities ask that the police and others try at least to meet them where they are; in other words, their plea is for those who are meant to help them to reach out rather than push them aside," Mr O'Connell said.

"The level of intimidation and upset suffered by some victims is, in my view, against the interests of justice.

"Reforming the law is not enough. Too often the problem is the attitude and behaviours of those expected to help victims of crime."

Officer in charge of the crimes investigation branch Superintendent Stephen Ryan in a written statement acknowledged the difficulty investigating such cases but said all were "treated seriously".

Supt Ryan said police were open to new methods of gathering evidence in order to gain appropriate convictions.

"When investigating complaints of sexual assault against those who are intellectually impaired, police can face difficulties from both alleged victims and witnesses," Supt Ryan said.

"These could include a lack of understanding of their rights, an inability to properly and fully report an assault and difficulty having their story understood.

"All reports of sexual assault are treated seriously and all efforts taken to acquire as much evidence and corroboration as possible to support every allegation."

Ms Sudano said the best defence for victims was the vigilance of disability and care workers.

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