Protection from abuse

People of all ages with intellectual disabilities can be at risk of abuse. It’s important to know what you can do to reduce the risk and how to report any safety concerns.

Abuse can take many forms - sexual abuse, financial abuse, violence, rough handling, neglect, bullying, intimidation, manipulation, withholding medication or overdosing, withholding communication devices, name-calling and teasing.

New Zealand research shows high rates of abuse of people with disabilities, much of which is hidden. It confirms that current systems do not always keep people safe, protect them or ensure that perpetrators of abuse are held to account. People with intellectual disabilities may find it difficult or may be unable to report abuse, and there is frequently a failure to respond to, or investigate, allegations of abuse and neglect.

Keeping safe

The likelihood of abuse and neglect is reduced when:

  • People with intellectual disabilities have ongoing access to learning about their human rights and how to speak up, particularly when they have a complaint and when they are trained alongside their support staff
  • Support services are welcoming of families and other supporters
  • People with intellectual disabilities have a range of paid and unpaid people in their lives, who they can speak to, trust and who will believe them

Programmes such as IHC Volunteering support friendships in the community.

Reporting abuse

The Crimes Act requires family and community members to report concerns about the safety of children and vulnerable adults.

If you think that someone is in immediate danger, call the Police. If you have concerns about the safety of a child, call Oranga Tamariki 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459). If the social worker thinks the child is in immediate danger, they will act on it within 24 hours.

Where to report abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults:

Anyone over the age of 18 who is aware that abuse of a child or vulnerable adult is occurring in the household they are living in or a household they are a member of must take reasonable steps to protect them from abuse. Likewise, support staff must ensure that the people they support are not being abused. If a staff member is aware a person is being abused in a residential or respite service, hospital or aged care facility or similar, they must take reasonable steps to protect them and report their concerns.

Failure to speak out and take reasonable steps to protect a child or vulnerable adult may result in charges with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Protection under the Domestic Violence Act

The Family Court can issue a protection order to protect any adult from further abuse by someone they are in a family relationship with. The court may allow a representative to apply for a protection order on behalf of an abused adult if they are unable to do so themselves due to lack of capacity or fear of harm.

People who are living in a group home fall outside of the definition of living in a domestic relationship.

Personal Orders

Sometimes a vulnerable adult may make decisions that put them or others at risk, for example medication refusal or being in situations where they are being taken advantage of.

Personal Orders can be made for people who are unable completely or partly to understand decisions about their personal care and welfare and to foresee the consequences of those decisions. An application can be made under The Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988 to the Family Court for a Personal Order.

The Family Court can make a Personal Order that plans for the person’s care, about medical and other services, or appoints someone to manage the person’s affairs or to represent them. The Family Court can make an interim Personal Order in urgent cases for example for urgent medical treatment. Interim orders last for up to six months.

A Personal Order ends 12 months after the order is made or when all the things that are stated in the order have been done. Welfare guardianship, property management and property administration are types of Personal Orders.

If you have any questions call our Community Connect phone line 9am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday on 0800 442 311

How we can help