She locked him in a cage, in the corner, because he wouldn’t do what she wanted him to do. He tied her to the bed so that she wouldn’t leave the room. Every night, for two years. They built a wooden coffin, with a padlock, and soundproofed it with egg cartons so they wouldn’t hear them scream.

By anybody’s standards, these are acts of torture. The kinds of torture that we read about in the tabloid rags, titled with sensationalist headlines that scream, ‘He locked me in a coffin!’ But in Australia, you won’t read those headlines. Why? Because we are disabled, and torture is de rigueur. It’s par for the course. If you won’t comply, if you don’t fit in, into the box you go. And aside from a slight flurry of outrage by disability rights activists, the rest of the world will make a moue of distaste – ah, that really should not happen, should it? – and will carry on, business as usual. The reactions are appalling. Only yesterday, the news headlines told us that a wooden box had been constructed for the sole purpose of restraining disabled clients. In a domestic relationship, the perpetrators of that act would have been hauled off to the police and interviewed. The victim or victims would be interviewed. But this is disability, where torture is an accepted practice. So what has happened? Well, practically nothing. We’re talking about ‘investigations’ and the organisation is hiring PR firms and writing trite press releases about ‘unauthorised structures‘ and telling us that actually, Autistic children and adults might like to be locked in wooden coffins. It’s the Josef Fritzl equivalent of a press release that says that the family who plays together stays together, and that dungeon basements are quite cosy, really. Let’s consider the facts.

The box was constructed by ASPECT staff last year and intended as a ‘calming device’, to put ‘diffficult’ clients into the box to calm them down. The box was nailed to the windowsill, to stop it from falling over. The box was intended to be soundproofed, with egg cartons. The box was fitted with a metal latch, to enable it to be locked. Within hours of the organisation being notified that a whistleblower had told authorities about the box, the whistleblower was fired. Staff were led to be believe that it was an ‘approved practice’. The two staff members who built the box were given the choice to resign and thanked for their service. The clients of the service – the same people who were intended to be locked in the box – were made to paint the box with colourful designs.

It’s just the latest in a recount of thousands of cases of abuse against people with disability. Earlier this year, a government school purpose built a metal cage in a classroom for the restraint of a ten year old Autistic boy. It was painted blue. Boxes and cages. In any other place, there would be outrage, investigations, prosecutions. Instead, there is silence and hiring of PR firms to kick off the damage control process, in the sure knowledge that in the disability sector, nobody will ever be held accountable. In Australia, we torture people with disability every single day. In health care settings, in education settings, in disability settings. We force them into compliance based behavioural intervention, and say that it is ‘for their own good’. We tie them to hospital beds and restrain them with medication. We cut out their reproductive organs and force them, coerce them, abuse them in a hundred, thousand ways. This cannot continue – yet it does. Australia has an abhorrent human rights record when it comes to the treatment of people with disability, and it is not getting better. We need a Royal Commission into the abuses against people with disability in Australia, and we need it now. We need strong legislation that places accountability where it belongs, and we need an independent, statutory, national body to investigate and act upon violence, neglect and abuse.

He locked him in a cage. He tied her to a bed. They built them a wooden coffin.

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