• Disability abuse survivor Jane Rosengrave is encouraging others to tell their story as a royal commission into abuse in the sector is set to be announced (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Aboriginal woman Jane Rosengrave was just six-years-old when she began suffering abuse while in an institution
28 Feb 2019 - 4:17 PM  UPDATED 1 Mar 2019 - 10:39 AM

Jane Rosengrave is a survivor.

Her uplifting spirit is in contrast to a life marked by abuse and neglect that began when she was just six years old.

“It has not been easy speaking about my past and I had a lot of flashbacks and panic attacks at first,” she told NITV.

Jane is a Yorta Yorta woman from Victoria. She lives with an intellectual disability and over her lifetime has suffered sexual and mental torment by multiple perpetrators.  

She gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 

“It took me a hell of a long time to tell my story because I thought that people would not believe me and that they would think that I was making this up,” she said. 

Jane kept her abuse secret for many years in fear she would be punished and that no-one would believe her. 

"I thought that I would get into trouble because to me I would get punished for saying something, in the institution we were not allowed to speak on what was going on, so I kept it to myself for years." 

But coming forward has provided a new lease on life, she now lives in her own home and has become a passionate advocate for others.

She traveled across the country from Alice Springs, Canberra, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales to share her story of survival as part of the child sexual abuse inquiry. 

"When I spoke up and told my story other people began to tell their stories knowing that they will be listened to and they would be believed," she said. 

“I have actually achieved a lot over the journey and I have learnt a lot and no one can pull the wool over my eyes now. I love to tell everyone now that I’m free as a bird.”

Jane, now a passionate disability advocate and board member of the First Peoples Disability Network, is encouraging other abuse survivors to share their story as part of a impending inquiry into abuse and neglect within the disability sector.

“They will be believed, they will not be ignored,” she said.

“I had support to tell my story and I would encourage them to tell their story and let them know that they will have support for the whole journey.”

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to announce a royal commission into abuse and neglect within the disability sector, after meeting with his Cabinet on Tuesday. 

Mr Morrison wrote to the states and territories asking for their in-principle support for a joint inquiry. 

In the letter, he called on all jurisdictions to work together saying without state and territory support an inquiry would have limited scope as many services across health, education and justice can be managed by the states.

"It is crucial that all governments work closely and collaboratively to ensure a holistic response to this issue," he wrote.

"Accordingly, I am now seeking your in-principle agreement for the establishment of a joint royal commission and the most appropriate consultation pathways to progress this important matter,” and “any cost-sharing arrangements that may be appropriate."

Mr Morrison said the inquiry will be as big as the $373m five-year child sexual abuse inquiry.

New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania have confirmed they support establishing the probe, but it’s not clear whether they support help paying for the inquiry. 

A formal announcement to establish a royal commission won’t come until Mr Morrison hears from all states and territories. 

He said a terms of reference can come before the next federal election. 

“That means we’re going to have to move very quickly, but we’re certainly doing that and I think the cooperation from states and territories to date has been very encouraging and I think there’s a real spirit of let’s just do this properly,” he said on Wednesday. 

The move follows the Prime Minister’s backing of a motion supporting the inquiry in Federal Parliament in early February, under pressure from Labor and the Greens.

Disability advocate and Greens senator Jordon Steele-John, who has pushed for an inquiry into abuse of disabled people, said 'if the royal commission is going to proceed with the speed that is needed, we cannot have months of negotiations over who will pay for it.' 

"We cannot wait... people are dying, they are being abused," he told the ABC. 

"There is absolutely no need for it to spend this time talking about who should pay for it when we should be talking about getting it underway, again this is more spin and delay and I will just not stand for it." 

Shadow Social Services Minister Linda Burney said asking the states and territories to shift the cost of the inquiry is a ‘cheapskate’ move. 

“It’s a cheapskate move to try and offload the cost of this royal commission to the states," she said.

“Scott Morrison had to be shamed into action, after the Government said no to a royal commission three times, including voting against it twice in the Parliament.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also written to the premiers and chief ministers seeking their support for a royal commission, if Labor is elected. 

Indigenous Australians with disability need to be at forefront

The peak body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a disability says the experiences of disabled Indigenous Australians should be at the forefront of the inquiry.

First Peoples Disability Network CEO Damian Griffis said Indigenous people are all too often victims, who are easily forgotten.

“Our people with disability are some the most vulnerable people in Australia,” he told NITV.  

“If you think about what it’s like to be a deaf person and what’s it’s like to communicate and experience abuse they’ve had, or if you’re a person with an intellectual disability, too often the police or the justice system doesn’t believe you,” he said.

Around 45 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live with a disability or long-term health condition.

But there is no current data on the number of disabled Indigenous people who’ve suffered abuse. Mainstream evidence suggests women with a disability are most at risk and these numbers would be similar for Indigenous women.

“This is part of the problem, there is no real substantive data and that would be one of the recommendations that we need to see out of this the royal commission,” Mr Griffis said.  

He said its critical Indigenous Australians have the opportunity to tell their story.

“Then we also need to come up with responses to try and make sure that this doesn’t happen anymore.”

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