MHDCD Project

6.4.11. Sarah

Sarah is an Indigenous woman now in her late twenties. Over the course of her life she has been diagnosed with intellectual disability, foetal alcohol syndrome disorder, epilepsy, acquired brain injury and a range of mental health disorders including depression, schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder. She has a history of sexual abuse, self-harm, and drug and alcohol misuse. Between the ages of 16 and 24 years Sarah was admitted to hospital on 49 occasions. She had no contact with the juvenile justice system and did not receive disability related services.

Sarah was raised by her grandmother along with her two brothers. When she was 14 she alleged she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a neighbour. When police investigated, they found that Sarah was an 'unreliable witness' due to inconsistencies in her recounting of the incident and no charges were laid. This response comes to characterise virtually all her subsequent reports of sexual assault and victimisation. From 15 years of age Sarah was under the care of the Community Services due to her 'vulnerability' and ‘concern for her living circumstances’. She resided in youth refuges interspersed by instances when she absconded and returned to her grandmother's house for short periods. At the age of 18 she came under the Protective Services Commissioner for financial management.

From age 10 to 24 Sarah had 129 police contacts in which she was identified as a victim of crime, including sexual assaults, domestic violence and property related offences – including an incident in which she was robbed of her disability support payment as she exited the office of the Protective Commissioner. As an adult Sarah was charged with 12 criminal offences including property damage, driving without a license, non-aggravated assault and resisting arrest. She served three short sentences averaging 33 days each in adult correctional custody, with self-harm incidents noted on each occasion.

Sarah experienced violence in a series of relationships beginning in her late teens, including with a known drug dealer. Police were regularly called to domestic violence related incidents between Sarah and her partners, and were recorded as having discussed the use of AVOs with Sarah and the possibility of her pressing charges against these perpetrators. AVOs were rarely taken out as Sarah's partners were also her carers and she indicated she would be unable to manage without their 'care'. Sarah pressed charges only once, resulting in her partner being charged and appearing in court, at which point Sarah refused to give evidence against him, again stating that she 'needs him at home'. Despite extensive notations relating to her intellectual disability and mental health disorders in police records, there is only one instance in which a support person is called to the police station to assist her. 

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