I identify myself as an Indigenous deaf woman. I am an advocate for women with disabilities in my community, especially deaf women, and I help them to access services so they can find out about their health and legal rights. I am able to be an advocate because I have had personal involvement with the legal system. I know what it’s like to be disregarded and disrespected by the legal system because I am Indigenous, deaf and living in a same-sex relationship.
My experience of the legal system stems from five years of trying to protect myself from being victimised and harassed. This man had eight breaches of an Intervention Order. The stalking laws had only just been introduced at that time, but these didn’t help me.
I’d had enough of being a victim in my own home and community. I refused to accept that my freedom to go into public places and visit friends was being dictated by someone else. The reason for the stalking isn’t the issue; the issue is why it took me five years and eight Intervention Orders to have this man brought to justice. Why didn’t I get the respect of being heard? I took a stand. I provided not only written documentation but also video evidence of the stalking and harassment, but I was told that I had invaded this man’s privacy. Where was my privacy?
The police and courts started to believe me when the other victims came to my help. This man had other court cases for stalking at the same time, yet the police still didn’t see it as being a problem. Why didn’t they believe me before then?
The police made assumptions that since other members of my family had prior involvement with the police and courts (and being more ‘indigenous’ looking then me) that I was the same ‘type of person’. The views of the senior police caused me to question what was real. They tried to tell me that I was ‘imagining’ the abuse, and that I should count myself ‘lucky’ that this man was ‘interested in me’.
When I persisted, I was interviewed, but without an interpreter. I wasn’t sure of the language that they used. I was told my request for an interpreter was too ‘expensive’ and time consuming. They told me that my speech was great and they would slow down for me. They said that my hearing loss wasn’t a concern for them. I explained to them that while I can speak well and lip-read well, under the circumstances I didn’t feel comfortable without an interpreter. I needed an interpreter to give me the full context of the questions that they were asking me. I felt intimidated by their use of the English language and found it harder when they used terminology that I hadn’t come across before.
I have had court cases postponed and moved for all sorts of reasons, including not having an interpreter. The perpetrator said he felt ‘intimidated’ by the use of sign language and said ‘we were talking in codes’ and that the ‘interpreter was telling lies’. Even one of the magistrates didn’t understand the bi-cultural bi-lingual ( Deaf/Indigenous, English/Auslan) way in which I presented myself and said I looked down and not at him directly (which in my culture is a sign of respect).
Also, every time I had to give evidence I had to re-live the harassment and abuse caused by the stalking nightmare. Where was my right to a fair court hearing? Where was my right to support and to use my own language as a woman who needed protection?
But now I have learnt a valuable lesson about the system: it’s not perfect (and it would be unrealistic to think it is). But I have identified the gaps in the system. Regardless of whether the woman has a disability or a language concern, or even if they are the perpetrator or the victim, they should be dealt with appropriately and professionally.
I am not saying that women with a disability should get ‘special treatment’. What we do seek is to have just, fair and appropriate support services, a clear understanding of the law and an awareness of who are the key players in the court process and who will eventually provide us with protection.
I am a woman who has survived horrible abuse and harassment, a woman who has a disability and who has navigated her way through the system and survived. I hope I can empower other women to succeed and achieve anything that they want if they truly believe in themselves. And regardless of gender, race, disability, religion and sexual orientation, we are all women first. Together we can support each other to overcome such segregation within our communities.