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Good intentions but a lousy idea

08/11/2013

I just heard a spokesman for victims of clerical child abuse on the radio making a heartfelt plea for more assistance for those suffering disabling post-traumatic stress as the result of sexual assault. Specifically he was calling for disabled victims of sexual assault to receive the same benefits currently enjoyed by Australian veterans who suffer from PTSD. He made a convincing case that the overheads in coping with suicidality and PTSD are impoverishing those on disability pensions and that as well as a pension top up these people needed access to the same level of medical and psychological care veterans receive.

I think his heart is in the right place but his brain seems to have gone AWOL.

Yep, it can be tough trying to live on a disability pension and almost all of us have medical and/or psychological problems that significantly add to our living expenses. That applies whether or not we are victims of sexual abuse.

We don’t need a suffering pissing contest splitting the disability community in the scramble for dollars.

There is a case for increasing benefits for all disability pensioners, not for dividing them up according to what caused their disability. There’s an even better case for targeting benefits according to present need rather than past circumstance.

That doesn’t mean we should be treated the same as disabled war veterans.

Soldiers are a special case. Typically they have become disabled because they were doing what the government called upon them to do. They are owed. They have also waived their right to sue their employer for endangering them in the workplace. They deserve some compensation for that too.

The real victims of any such reforms will be the victims of sexual assault.

By increasing the benefits available to sex abuse victims compared to others the government would be providing an incentive for people to claim they were raped, whether or not they really were. I don’t know whether welfare recipients and low income earners would take advantage of this, but I know who would. Lawyers.

Reporting rape is already a very traumatic experience for many victims. They will often be subjected to extended, personal interviews by misogynistic cops who would prefer them to go away and not report a crime which so rarely results in a conviction. Usually they will know their rapist personally and may be afraid of reprisals from the offender or his friends. If it ever gets to court it will probably be contested on the issue of consent and the victim will face cross examination from a defence lawyer who will try to suggest she wanted and even enjoyed what happened to her.

Do we really want lawyers trying to convince juries rape victims are lying in order to boost their incomes as well?

Those struggling with post traumatic stress deserve all the support we can muster, regardless of what caused their trauma. What they don’t deserve is a benefits system that will put them through even more trauma and make it harder than it already is to report sexual abuse.

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From → cops, radio

3 Comments
  1. OK, I’m with you on the pissing contest and soldiers, but you lost me near the end. You’re almost saying that, by giving legitimate hurt people something that might create a better future (to the extent that disability benefits do) is a bad thing because, during a trial that same person might be challenged more harshly. Just being challenged more harshly seems to be justification for you to remove their possible less-harsh future with disability benefits. Since rape is already under-reported, wouldn’t the possible increased reporting of rape also be a positive?

    To be clear, I’ll grant that, with limited funds, lines have to drawn in awkward places. Also, you’re taking a stand on a tough subject where, other than my nitpicking response, I wouldn’t have the courage to address similarly.

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    • You’re almost saying that, by giving legitimate hurt people something that might create a better future (to the extent that disability benefits do) is a bad thing

      Currently in Australia your eligibility for disability benefits is assessed according to your level of disability, not what caused it. So, yes, I think that changing that to a system where the disabled person must satisfy a bureaucracy as to how they became disabled as well would be a bad thing.

      Benefits aren’t made available (or increased) because governments are kind hearted. It happens because organised groups lobby for it. I would suggest that by splitting the disability community into ‘worthy’ victims of sexual assault and ‘less worthy’ victims of birth, accident, disease, non-sexual attacks, etc the end result is likely to be lower benefits for most.

      Since rape is already under-reported, wouldn’t the possible increased reporting of rape also be a positive?

      One of the main reasons rape is under-reported is the very low conviction rate for reported rapes (currently about 6% in NSW and pretty much the same across the English speaking world).

      Why report if you are going to be disbelieved and your rapist will walk free? (Or worse, try to sue you for false accusation).

      By handing defence lawyers another ground for ‘reasonable doubt’ of the victim I would suggest that conviction rates will fall even further and probably reporting will fall further as well – especially if segments of the population develop the perception that some people are falsely reporting for financial reasons.

      So no, I don’t think increased reporting of rape would be positive if the net effect would be greater vilification of victims than already exists plus a better chance for offenders to escape conviction when it is reported.

      I did a fair bit of work with both victims and perpetrators around a decade ago and under most circumstances my advice to rape victims in Australia would be “Don’t report it to police”. The consequences are too traumatic (some victims say it’s like being raped again) and the chances of a positive outcome too low.

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      • I think I understand better. Your point about level of disability versus etiology of disability makes sense.

        6%? Wow! That is insanely low. I would have thought 25% was crazy low, but this? Wow!

        Thank you for clarifying! I was missing the point.

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