The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is being urged to investigate the forced sterilisation of children, amid concerns young people with a disability are at much of higher risk of being sexually abused.
Submissions to the royal commission have painted a harrowing picture of widespread abuse experienced by disabled children at educational institutions, including violence and neglect.
“Often the unacceptable is seen as acceptable because the child has a disability,” Children with Disability Australia (CDA) chief executive Stephanie Gotlib said.
While there is no Australian data on the subject, international research suggests that children with a disability are about three times more likely to be sexually abused than other children.
People with a Disability Australia believe that disabled children are at greater risk of sexual abuse because they are often excluded from attending mainstream schools, thrusting them into “isolated” settings such as day services.
“Perpetrators tend to target ‘vulnerable’ children – that is, children who are unlikely to disclose, who have few trusted adults around them, whose disclosure would be unlikely to be believed and whose disclosure is unlikely to result in investigation and eventual conviction,” the group’s submission said.
The nation’s peak disability bodies also said many young people were missing out on sexual education classes that otherwise would teach them about sexual assault and healthy relationships, because it was not considered relevant to them.
“It’s their right,” Ms Gotlib said. “You’re going to have sexual needs, disabled or not. It’s the reality for every child.”
Ms Gotlib said while the forced or coerced sterilisation of children was not, to her knowledge, being considered by the royal commission, it should be looked at as a form of sexual abuse.
“You hear of abhorrent cases of very young children being sterilised,” she said.
Reasons given for the sterilisation of young people with a disability include to prevent unwanted pregnancies, stop sex between people with a disability or manage menstruation, according to the CDA submission.
Another issue raised in the submissions were concerns children were being put at risk of abuse during long and improperly-supervised bus trips to and from special schools
In South Australia, about 30 students from St Ann’s Special School were abused by bus driver Brian Perkins in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with much of the abuse going unreported because his victims could not speak.
Today in Victoria, buses are provided to special school students, but the children can spend four hours each day travelling a relatively-short distance to and from school, as each journey can be up to two hours, according to CDA.
This has posed other problems, in addition to concerns about sexual abuse.
In one case reported to CDA, an eight year old boy, who could usually independently use a toilet, wet his pants during his two hour journey to and from school.
It is alleged when his parents asked the education department to allow the child to use the toilet if he needed it, the department told them “this was not an available option”.
Instead the department said the boy could wear a nappy or they could consider “withholding fluids during the afternoon” or providing an absorbent towel in the event he could not hold on any longer.