Talking about us, without us: a survivor’s perspective on gendered violence, disability and inclusion

Content warning: violence, sexual assault

Public discussions are an important component of education and prevention work, as they lay important groundwork for shifts in societal attitudes. These public, particularly broadcasted, conversations must be done in a considered, meaningful manner. What meaningful discussion is, however, tends to be more complex and not often agreed upon. As far as I’m concerned, meaningful discussion and inclusion are inextricably linked.   

There was a landmark report recently titled The Choice: Violence or Poverty, released earlier this year. That report was discussed on ABC’s Q and A (7 July 2022) which received some critique from disability activists such as Nicole Lee, about the use of deficit language and implications that disabled women are responsible for violence perpetrated towards them.  

With the launch of Our Watch’s resource for prevention of violence specifically against disabled women and girls, Changing the Landscape, national discussions have been happening about the intersection of gendered violence and disability.  

This launch adds a focussed perspective on gendered violence prevention in the disabled community. It adds to the broader discourse about different jurisdictions considering the criminalisation of coercive control, and the consideration of a national approach to doing so. It has prompted a renewed attempt to change the conversations had about family, gendered and intimate partner violence crisis occurring in Australia.   

When it comes to gendered violence experienced by disabled people, this link is particularly plain. For discussions about intersecting experiences, such as this, it is imperative for those with lived experience to not only have their perspectives involved but amplified. It’s important that the broader community recognises that lived experience is valuable expertise that can be learned from and the foundation for education and prevention action.  

What’s also important is inclusion beyond tokenistic gestures on behalf of able-bodied people and systems. By doing appropriate research into the appropriate language to use, what issues affect the disabled community specifically concerning their risk of gendered violence acknowledges that there is a need for a fundamental shift in focus when it comes to addressing complex issues. This is a shift away from able-bodied, white perspectives as default. The reality is that gendered violence perpetrated against disabled people simply can’t be addressed with all the subtlety the topic deserves without the understanding of those who have lived it.   

Meaningful inclusion is vital for the simple reason that not all those who are disabled experience gendered violence, and not all those who experience gendered violence are disabled. Those of us whose lives and pivotal life events have occurred in the intersections of these experiences have unique insights that are interwoven from how these different facets of our identities interact with each other.  

Crucially, not all gendered violence survivors have the same opinion about what approach is best to address gendered violence against disabled people, particularly in the instance of criminalisation of coercive control. There is supposedly understanding that disabled people are not a homogenous group, but where are the public, amplified discussions amongst our community? Where is the discourse about the breadth of perspectives on how to best approach complicated issues that we are disproportionately affected by? I’m yet to receive any invitations.  

Disabled people face additional barriers in accessing education as it is, let alone disabled People of Colour and First Nations people. If privileged, ‘health literate’ white disabled people can’t get the mic about issues affecting their own lives and safety, how on earth are disabled people facing further disadvantage going at being heard? I’d be willing to bet, they’re working twice as hard to be heard half as frequently, if that.  

Women with Disabilities Australia Board Member Kat Reed asked a poignant and relevant question in that Q and A episode, why where they not included on the panel? As a queer, disabled non-binary advocate, they would’ve been an informed voice on disability who would’ve contributed richly to that episode on the panel. The question they posed was an important one, but as far as I understand from the discourse that followed, the panel did not have the expertise to answer. I didn’t watch it; I find it exhausting to be talked about, rather than to. 

I find myself particularly frustrated, as it sometimes seems as though there’s a willingness for inclusion up to a point. I am someone with lived experience, but also someone with professional experience with family violence as a registered nurse, have Master of Public Health which specialised in gendered health, as well as having policy and research experience. I feel as though I’m begging to be heard by the old, ableist systems that dictate our fate. I know I’m not the only disabled gendered violence survivor who feels this way.  

At what point will disabled people be considered qualified enough to be consulted in public discourse? In my case, a postgraduate degree doesn’t appear to be sufficient. Should I have to attempt to battle through one of the most notoriously ableist institutions, tertiary education (again) but this time for a PhD? RN and MPH don’t seem to be sufficient letters after my name, maybe the third time’s the charm?  

My experience across healthcare at frontline, system design and policy levels, and firsthand as a patient, don’t seem to count enough either. I did research concerning elder abuse in my master’s degree, I’ve worked in paediatric settings, so I have experience across the different effects at different stages of the lifespan. I was raped as a young adult and required healthcare afterwards, there’s plenty of input I could provide about how that system could be improved.  

Meaningful inclusion is obviously way beyond my individual frustrations. I understand my privileges and am dedicated to amplifying the voices of those who experience more marginalisation. I am ready, willing, and capable of being a link between historic systems and people the system lazily consider ‘difficult to reach’. So, consider this my official proposal. The question is, does anybody care?

If this topic raises any issues for you, please contact:

Image description: photograph of a young woman with long hair smilingKatie Brebner Griffin is a queer, dynamically disabled gendered violence activist. She is a registered nurse, writer, and artist under the moniker @ohkdarling

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