La Trobe wins VicHealth grants

Distressing reports of violence and abuse against people with intellectual disability, and their continuing lack of participation in mainstream society, will come under close scrutiny in a new La Trobe University study.
the achilles tendonThe problem will be tackled with the help of a VicHealth Innovation grant just announced by the State Government.  It is one of two received by the University out of a total of five awarded for the whole of Victoria.

The two-year $200,000 study is being carried out by Dr Patsie Frawley and Professor Christine Bigby from La Trobe’s Department of Social Work and Social Policy.

The researchers say the aim is to help develop a more effective model for prevention of violence and abuse, one that takes account of, and includes, people with intellectual disability.

Dr Frawley has a long history of innovative program and educational work in the field of intellectual disability and Professor Bigby, an internationally recognised expert on intellectual disability and social inclusion, is author of five books on the subject.

Their investigation comes after revelations earlier this year that Community Visitors had lodged 86 reports of violence against people with cognitive impairments or mental illness over the past four years and an investigation by the Ombudsman into the assault of a disabled man by his carers.

The researchers say that levels of violence and abuse disproportionately affect the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

‘Despite strong policies backed with significant allocation of resources, the implementation of violence and abuse prevention strategies has so far paid little attention to people with intellectual disability,’ says Professor Bigby.

The La Trobe study will examine existing violence and abuse prevention programs, how best they can be improved by taking into account the experiences of people with intellectual disability, and what obstacles such people face in accessing mainstream awareness-raising programs.
‘It is absolutely critical that we bring people with intellectual disability into mainstream primary prevention efforts, which is exactly what this work sets out to do,’ says Professor Bigby.

The second study for which La Trobe has been funded also deals with exclusion: that faced by Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) people wishing to participate in sport.

It is being carried out by Dr Gillian Fletcher and Dr Sue Dyson from the University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) on the Melbourne City campus,

The researchers say that sport, and the culture surrounding sport, can reduce health inequalities in our society – but those benefits are not enjoyed equally by all.

Nationally and internationally, sport is also recognised for harassment, discrimination, and exclusion on the grounds of someone’s known or assumed sexuality or gender identity.

Their two year study will examine Victoria’s ‘safe sport’ inclusion and participation programs from a GLBT perspective and whether they help or hinder participation of GLBT people in mainstream sport.

The researchers will gather data using on-line discussions with GLBT and non-GLBT sports people from across Victoria.

‘We know,’ says Dr Fletcher, ‘that the health and wellbeing of GLBT people is affected by harassment, and by explicit and implicit discrimination and exclusion.’

While outright physical violence from homophobia in sport is rare in Australia, the most common form of discrimination is silence and invisibility.

‘This leaves GLBT people with the burden of having to either acquiesce and “pass” as straight, or persist in attempting to assert their “difference” in the face of resolute but usually unspoken policies of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

These barriers act as a ‘glass box’ which many GLBT sportspeople do not feel safe to break out of.’ 

The result can be reflected in costs to our health system. Harassment, discrimination and exclusion can lead to feelings of being unsafe, excessive drug use, self harm and suicide attempts among GLBT people. The numbers of people at risk of such poor health outcomes are significant.

There is no data on the number of GLBT sports people. However,  8.6per cent of men and 15.1 per cent of women aged 16-59 have reported some same-sex attraction or experience in the Australian Study of Health and Relationships, led by Professor Anthony Smith from ARCSHS.

‘It is not just gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people who are affected, but also non-GLBT people,’ says Dr Fletcher.  ‘For instance the epithet “dyke” is often attached to any women who enjoy participating in sport, and the phrase “that’s so gay” is used as a term of abuse’.

More information about the studies:

Adopting a mainstream approach: Effective violence and abuse prevention strategies for people with an intellectual disability

Dr Patsie Frawley T: 9479 3041 E:
Professor Bigby T: 9479 1016 E:

Beyond the glass box of silence and invisibility: Examining inclusion and participation programs from a GLBT perspective

Dr Fletcher T: 9285 5301 E:
Dr Dyson T: 9285 5125 E: