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In this episode we’ll hear about the disturbing statics facing the disability community when it comes to domestic and family violence and what needs to be done to solve this issue.

Our guest is Karni Liddell, a paralympian, disability and diversity specialist, clinical social worker, and a member of the Queensland Premier’s Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council. She is also the Queensland Ambassador for the NDIA.

Podcast Duration: 23 minutes

Podcast Release Date: April 15, 2020

Produced by: Black Me Out Productions

Additional reading

Biography on Karni Liddell

Karni Liddell is a former world record holder, Paralympic swimmer, speaker, TV presenter, Mother and clinical social worker. Karni was born with a neuro-muscular wasting disease and her parents were told that their first-born child wouldn’t walk, crawl or live past her teenage years.

Karni broke her first World Record at the age of 14 and she went on to win Paralympic medals at every Paralympics she competed at and she regards being captain of the Number 1 team at the Sydney 2000 Games her greatest sporting achievement.

Karni has risen over $1million dollars throughout her career for the various disability charities she supports.

Karni is the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) QLD Ambassador, she is a member of the Qld Premier’s Domestic and Family Violence Council, she is a radio broadcaster, a presenter for Channel 7 and is the the Patron of the International Day of People with a Disability, Ambassador for Kids Help Line, Muscular Dystrophy QLD and Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association.

Karni was awarded the Pride of Australia medal, she won the Qld Teacher and Trainer of the year (2015) and was awarded the Alumni of the Year award for the faculty of health at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Karni holds a Clinical Masters in Social Work (QUT) and a double Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Bond University.

Karni is an Internationally acclaimed and sought after keynote speaker and has just done a TED speech, which has been watched by thousands of people around the world and was the only TED speaker on the day to receive a standing ovation.

KARNI Liddell won’t let anyone or anything stop her from living her dreams. The young woman with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare and severe genetically transmitted condition, has inspired thousands of people around Australia to reach for what others might call impossible. “I really try to emphasise having a disability is not the worst thing that can happen,” she said. “We have a choice in life and we can make that choice despite our life circumstances.” But Ms Liddell hasn’t let herself be limited physically either, becoming a two-time bronze medal-winning Paralympic swimmer and breaking a world record aged 14.

Karni is the Ambassador for Clubs Queensland, Day of Difference Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association and ACPET. Karni demonstrates to everybody who hears her story that each and every one of us has a choice in life and that our choices should not be determined by our circumstances.

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View transcript

Growing Bold in a World of Domestic Violence

Welcome to the Grow Bold with Disability podcast brought to you by Feros Care, a podcast dedicated to smashing stereotypes and talking about the things people disability care about most. Helping us lead bolder, healthier, better connected lives. I’m journalist Pete Timbs and I’m Tristram Peters. I work for disability service directory, Clickability, and am a wheelchair user living with spinal muscular atrophy.

Today’s episode of Grow Bold with Disability is growing bold in a world of domestic violence. And our guest is Karni Liddell, a Paralympian, a disabled and diversity specialist, she’s also a clinical social worker and a member of the Queensland Premieres Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council. Now, in this episode, we will hear about the disturbing statistics facing the disability community when it comes to domestic violence or family violence and what needs to be done to solve this issue.

Karni Liddell, welcome to Grow Bold with Disability. Thanks, guys. Happy to be here. It’s great to have you. So Karni, domestic and family violence in the disability community happens to one in two people over the age of 15 compared to just one in three for those without disability. Why do you think that is? Look Tristram, there’s a whole lot of reasons and factors, inter-sectionalities that happen, I guess when it comes to domestic and family violence, as we know, especially right now in Australia. We’re all grieving and reeling, I’d say, by the haunting story of Hannah Baxter being murdered and her three little babies by her ex-husband. And I guess when it comes to disability, I’ve been very privileged to speak with survivors or victims of domestic and family violence with disabilities and without. And I guess one of the main contributing factors for a woman with a disability experiencing domestic and family violence is the fact that it’s so hard for us to gain and keep employment in this country. We are one of the worst countries in the Western world, which I absolutely despise saying as a proud Paralympian. And you know we’re so good at sport with disabilities. But then we’re weirdly not good at employing people with disabilities, which I find odd because if I can compete at the Paralympic Games with the muscle wasting disease, you know do the most physical thing, why can’t I be a social worker or a lawyer or a journo you know, just because I’m missing some muscles.

So it’s a really weird thing that we see in this country that we can’t easily access or keep productive good employment. And I guess that contributes heavily to the fact that we find ourselves in toxic environments where we can’t leave because to be able to leave a toxic family or domestic environment, you have to be able to afford to leave. You have to be able to pay for shelter, food and all those things. And I guess if you can’t do that, it sort of makes sense, doesn’t it, that we’ve got such an alarming higher rate of DV in our beautiful community?

Karni, this also comes back to the base level, which is education as well. There’s only 16% of all women with disability are likely to have a secondary education. Why is that? Yeah, that’s hard for me to believe sometimes because as Tristram would know we’re often the most educated people in every room because we keep going back and getting more and more degrees so the doors will open for us. So often times I always say the most, the smartest people I know have a disability because we’ve gone and accumulated a really big hex debt and got lots and lots of degrees.

The reason why again, if I look at females with a disability because obviously, we’re at much higher rates of DV in general, us females, because men are typically the perpetrators, is that we can’t access universities easily. We don’t have the funds. We don’t have the support systems. Transport. All those things. I always say the hardest part of my day is getting to work. It’s not the actual work. Transport, cars, hoists, public transport, pathways, wheelchairs working, not working, all of that stuff or just trying to get on the bloody plane in a wheelchair is extraordinarily challenging, if not impossible sometimes.

Do you think with the movement towards online education, especially in tertiary, that this might change? Yes and no at same time? I don’t want to isolate people with disabilities even more. I think we’re so isolated anyway because the solution is online, and I think that, you know, in general, we really have to figure out a way to start communicating in person again, like the old fashioned way. But look, it can be a solution for people with disabilities. But again, I think we have to look at other ways. Our transport infrastructure should be better and better equipped because not just because of us people in wheelchairs, us cool kids in chairs, the whole population is ageing. Everyone’s got some kind of ailment at some time in their life. Nobody gets through life without having a sore foot or a sore ankle. You got prams. You’ve got all these people using a variety of different ways to get around. We should be looking at a way to make our society, our community more accessible to everyone because it just makes sense.

Yeah, we’ve actually (you and me Karni) taught people how to become support workers. We met University Queensland many years ago and taught the new generation. How important is that, for us to be teaching those people about disability and what the norms and perceptions of that sort of stuff is like? Yeah, especially in this new era of the NDIS we’ve gotta always be mindful too, don’t forget, I guess that not everyone in Australia with a disability will have an NDIS package or want one. You know, I think it’s a big disservice to the disability community to always associate us with funding or needing support workers.

And this is another thing getting back to domestic and family violence. I call it the carer myth. So in general the Domestic and Family Violence Service Sector, that includes police, health, DV Connect, Lifeline, all those sort of providers, they often believe, because I guess the community believe, that we all need carers or support workers to live. And without them, we wouldn’t be able to live.

So what I mean by that, I mean that people really do believe that most of us need 24/7 care. Which as you know Tristram is quite rare to get 24/7 care or want it. I couldn’t think of anything worse than having, no offence, support workers in my life 24 hours a day. I love you guys, but you know I only need a few hours a day. But yeah, the problem is that people believe that about us. That’s the reason why a lot of police often leave those carers in our houses, that are the actual perpetrators. Because when they go into a DV call out for example, and somebody’s the victim has a disability, often the perpetrator will say, “Oh, no, you know she needs me. I’m her carer”. And, of course, because people believe that about us in general that we all need carers and whatever to do everything. Then it’s very likely that that officer, police officer or DV specialist social worker, etcetera, will actually leave that perpetrator in the home. And we see this all the time. Multiple call outs. Because you know what? I can live without my support workers. I may not be able to do a few things that day it, but I can’t live with violence. I can’t live in a house where I am being abused and neglected every single day.

So this carer myth and this idea that support workers are in our lives 24/7 – that myth we have to absolutely bust.

But getting back to that question about support workers. I only ever needed support workers when I had a kid. You know until 3 and a half years ago I never had a support worker and I’m a woman in a wheelchair with a muscle wasting disease. I use an electric wheelchair. It would be easy to think that I would need a lot of support, but I only needed support, funnily enough, when I became pregnant and I became single, so it wasn’t just a disability thing. It was a lifestyle thing as well.

I’ve spent the last 3.5 years working with support workers and to be honest Tristram all that stuff I said years ago, I’ll have to take back because you really do learn. I was lying. I was talking through my butt because I didn’t have any idea what it’s like to have support workers until now that I do have them. And in every single week I’m learning more and more because it is such an invasion on your life, but also you need it. I can tell you now, support workers can really enhance people with disabilities lives if they know how to make sure that they can be in the background. And I guess help us live that good, purposeful life. But yeah, it’s been an interesting 3.5 years.

So just back on the DV and the perpetrators, I mean you mentioned that the carer are sometimes the perpetrators. Where else is this abuse coming from? Again, it’s really hard to quantify, because unfortunately, we people with disabilities are often left out of all data, and this is actually a basic, I call this abuse in itself, a systems abuse. Because we have been left out of data sets and we still are left out of data sets all the time. When it comes to domestic and family violence and trying to quantify it hasn’t been an easy task. Queensland police only just started identifying disability in their DV forms I think, last year.

But when you speak to them directly like I’ve been lucky enough to do, they will tell you that they are inundated with domestic and family violence call outs in general. That’s their number one call out now. That’s all they do, all day, every day. But so many of those people have disabilities, but they haven’t been identified in the data on the forms. You know, we don’t even get identified properly in education and hospitals, so unfortunately, this is the reality we’re living in. Now people are recognising that we should be included in all data sets because the person that works for the government guess what you can’t get any funding or support unless you’ve got data and we are kind of invisible. And that, to me, reflects on, unfortunately, how society sometimes views us. And my big thing is trying to get employment for people with disabilities in general. And so we are really trying with the State Government here in Queensland, and we’re really trying to get Corporates in the community to start looking at how many people with disabilities they already employ. Getting a stat around that and hopefully then getting them to increase it.

And it’s also important to note that it’s not just physical abuse. It’s not just systems abuses. There are all types of abuse going on. What are some of the other type of abuse that people face? Specifically with a disability it is pretty much very similar to any woman facing and experiencing domestic and family violence and what we’ve all learnt from Hannah’s murder and her baby’s murders is that often times the red flags, and I guess DV practitioners like myself all understand this really well because I don’t want to minimise at all Hannah’s or her babies murders because to us, unfortunately, that’s business as usual, the red flags leading up to that murder. So again, physical abuse is often not what we consider a really big red flag for DV related homicide, if you can believe that.

Most of the time, when we are looking at DV related homicides, the Death Review board’s going through data, looking forensically at the lead up to a homicide, it is actually coercive control, stalking, financial abuse and kidnapping of the children. So those are really big factors when it comes to, and alarming red flags when it comes to DV related homicide. And with disability, some of disability related DV is not charging wheelchairs or any mobility equipment. So as you could imagine, Tristram, I’m not sure how you charge your chair, but I’m guessing somebody may help you. Somebody also helps me charge my chair.

So if you want to really, really stuff up our days, would be to make sure we don’t have a battery, which I do often because I am absent minded. “Professor Forget to charge my wheelchair” all the time. So I’m abusing myself regularly. That’s a disability related DV, that the perpetrator won’t charge the person’s wheelchair or mobility equipment. They will not give them the medications. They won’t take them to rehabilitation appointments. And we’re also seeing a lot of perpetrators of specifically women with disabilities filling out their forms for them for, For NDIS packages and taking over their packages and of course Centrelink payments etcetera. So that’s a really specific DV offence for somebody with a disability. It’s pretty disgusting when you think about it.

The financial abuse there, the social abuse you mentioned, then the emotional abuse. Is there a lot of sexual abuse in this field as well? People with an intellectual disability and a cognitive disability are at alarmingly higher rates off sexual abuse. There have been some stats that suggests that 90% off women with an intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted. Now that’s a stat that is hard to quantify and actually back up. But let’s just say that they’re at a really, really high, rate.

I know this because I have been a clinician, you know, in this field I sit on the sexual violence round table here in Queensland, and I’m very linked in with a lot of services, and it’s at such a high rate, and one of them contributing factors to that happening is because our legal system deems anybody with an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment of any description, even mental health can be also chucked into that bag, as being an unreliable witness. So if you’re already stamped by the legal system and the justice system as being an unreliable witness, then as you can imagine for the police and prosecutors and barristers and lawyers that take on the cases, which are very few and far between, they don’t want to take them on because they know they’re not going to win.

They know that it’s not going to get through the courts. So as you can imagine, this particular law is something that I’m very passionate about. Because, as I say, I’ve never met anyone with a disability I can’t communicate with. I haven’t met a human I can’t communicate with and anybody, any human knows when they’re being raped. And every single human being knows when they’re being abused. So that is not something that you need a high IQ for. You don’t have to be good at Maths and English to know you’ve been raped.

And also, if we consider that children can now be seen as reliable witnesses with the right support and services, we must start seeing people with an intellectual disability in the same way. If they’ve got the right supports and services, you can communicate with them. Absolutely. You just have to make sure they’re linked with what I would like to see as communication partners or interpreters. Just like we do with anyone who can’t speak English. We make sure they’ve got interpreters through the entire court proceedings, and this happens all the way through. This happens with police as well. When somebody with an intellectual disability presents, when they do present those people have a right to have good representation and someone help them communicate. Not their carers, not their support workers, but a third party.

So in terms of people, if they have facing these types of abuse, what can they do? Who can they turn to? What organisations are out there to assist them? Yeah, good question. Not enough. Unfortunately, well fortunately and unfortunately, because I always think, you know, us people with disabilities we have to access mainstream services right, so that’s just the way of life. But often times people think there’s like this utopia, magical unicorn disability land that we go to for everything. And now that the NDIA is obviously up and running, they really do think that that place does everything. And as we know Tristram, that is not the case.

When we are sick, we go to the GP, we go to the hospital and when we are abused or experiencing violence, we obviously will go to the police and also, hopefully, mainstream domestic and family violence services. Some mainstream DV services like 1 800 respect, they have developed an app for people with intellectual disabilities. It’s a sunny app that you can obviously download throughout the APP store, and you can actually, when you do call them or you can even go online they’ve got a way for people that have communication problems to go online and do it chat online or however they normally communicate. But you can ask for support specific to your needs and abilities.

But I would highly recommend anyone with a disability that is experiencing domestic and family violence to obviously always reach out the police, mainstream providers and someone trusted in their circle. But in terms of in Queensland we have DV Connect and they’re doing a lot of work actually in making sure that they support people better moving forward. Lifeline have started to do a national programme to educate all DFV frontline workers and Disability Worker’s on domestic and family violence and disability, was written by Sue Salt House, who’s a legend. She happens to use a wheelchair as well, so she’s obviously somebody with lived experience of domestic and family violence.

But we always have to be mindful, though, that anyone that’s escaping a domestic and family violence situation, and I certainly don’t want to encourage people to do this. But we have to be mindful that leaving a relationship is the riskiest time for a woman. It is fraught with danger, and it’s very risky in terms of homicide. But also I really want the community understand to leave, it takes on average seven times for a woman to leave a domestic violence situation, so it’s not a quick fix. It’s a really long process because often times they’ll lose their jobs, their identity, their house, the children will have to move school. They’ll have no money at all because obviously financial abuse, and that perpetrator usually takes most of their income and controls it. So we have to remember this is a really long process. This could be anywhere from a year, to 10 years to 20 year process to get women safely back into a really, you know, a better life, but also a life they can actually afford to live.

Karni, as you know, this podcast is called Grow Bold with Disability. Can you tell us what living a bold life is to you? Oh, living a bold life. I don’t really have a choice. I certainly wouldn’t want the generation below me and below me again, I’m bloody in my forties, the generations below me, I hope the new generations of kids and teenagers with disabilities don’t feel like I felt my whole life.

And that is, I have to be the smartest, boldest, funniest, hottest person to get anywhere in life with a disability, because that’s what I felt my whole life. I guess I’ve always been so bold and so big because I’ve always been so frightened that I wouldn’t have a job and I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. And I wouldn’t be given chances, I guess because 41 years of living with a disability, I still fight for basics. I wish I didn’t have to say that. I wish you didn’t have to say that I fight to get on a plane every week because I’m in a wheelchair, literally. Sometimes I don’t win. Sometimes I’m left behind. So I can’t go and do my work or going on holiday.

Or, you know, every other week my wheelchair is broken by an airline. You fight to access buildings, all of those things. I wish that, I hope that this next generation can just live a mediocre, a normal life. And they don’t feel like I’ve felt my whole life, which is having to be so outrageously bold and amazing to get anywhere. But to me, a bold life is actually leaving and leading a normal life, being a great mom, a good friend and turning the fight switch off, mate? No more fighting for the basics and just getting back to fighting for people with disabilities rights and the right to live free from violence. That’s what I’d like to do.

Thank you so much for joining us today on Grow Bold with Disability brought to you by Feros Care. And our listeners can find out much more about Karni and her great work within the disability sector in the links provided in today’s episode shownotes. Karni, again, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having me. Thank you for listening.

And if you have enjoyed today’s episode that make sure you subscribe to the podcast, Grow Bold with Disability. And if you like what you heard, please take a few moments to pop over Apple Podcasts and give our podcast a quick rating so we can continue these conversations and encourage people to grow bold.

This podast is brought to you by Feros Care, an NDIS partner delivering local area coordination services in Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. Feros Care is a people care organisation committed to helping people live bolder lives. We call it growing bold, and for over 25 years, Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability. To find out more visit Feroscare.com.au

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The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees.

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Disability & Diversity Specialist, Keynote Speaker and trainer, Clinical Social Worker, Channel 7 Presenter

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