Disabled adults in New Zealand are 52 per cent more likely to experience sexual violence in their lifetime a new report says.
The Ministry of Justice's New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey found people with disabilities were significantly more likely to experience crime across all categories - particularly sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
According to the survey up to 16 per cent of disabled New Zealanders experienced interpersonal violence - abuse from a partner or family member - in the previous 12 months. That's compared with 7 per cent for non-disabled people.
Disabled Persons Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker said the survey confirms what the group has known for some time.
"Disabled people are more likely to be a target because we're less likely to speak out and when we do, we're not believed. To be frank, it's about not valuing our lives as much as other people," Walker said.
"Even when we're believed we're often not able to access appropriate support. That can be for physical accessibility but also communication needs."
Walker said there were also barriers to accessing information so resources should be designed in collaboration with disabled people.
"Professionals working in the sexual violence sector need to work in trauma-informed ways that enhance the mana of disabled people so they are responding appropriately to both our practical and emotional needs."
Empowerment Trust founder and adviser Cornelia Baumgartner works with people who have learning disabilities to teach about healthy relationships.
"Very often they have a lot of experiences where their boundaries get crossed and they are put into situations where people say to them you don't know, you just have to," Baumgartner said.
The yearly survey is conducted by people over the age of 15.
Baumgartner said younger disabled people were at high risk to be victims of sexual violence so, if they were part of the survey, the statistics would be higher.
"Inclusion of disabled people in society is the best prevention. If they are lonely because they can't mix with others, others might take advantage. Then they will be very easy targets because they are craving connection."
Only 25 per cent of crime is reported to police according to the survey.
CCS Disability Action national disability leadership co-ordinator Debbie Ward said disabled people don't always feel safe reporting crime.
"Not all disabled people feel safe to speak out about crime and abuse. It's because of that vulnerability of still potentially relying on the support of the abuser," Ward said.
"There's a large population of disabled people who can't speak up and can't communicate when crime is happening to them. They may have learning disabilities, they may have high needs, or be non-verbal."
Ward said the survey was sad but not surprising.
"Disabled people need to know that there is a safe place to go to report these sorts of issues in crime or sexual offending. They need to know that the people they can talk to have some awareness about disability and barriers that disabled people face."
Ward said the statistics are limited and only look at a small sample of the disabled population in New Zealand.
She hoped the Ministry of Justice would expand the sample to be more representative of the disabled population.
Ministry of Justice Deputy Secretary Tim Hampton said 8000 people are randomly surveyed in their own homes and the methodology makes it uniquely confidential but it means some people will miss out.
"We don't currently have an appropriate methodology that would allow us to select people in residences, hospitals or other medical facilities while maintaining the randomness of the survey," Hampton said.
"We are also unable to interview children younger than 15 years of age without obtaining parental consent, which is outside the scope of the methodology."
Hampson acknowledged some people in supported living arrangements or who required someone else to communicate would not be included in the survey.
In 2019, the Government allocated $2 million to the Violence Prevention Needs in Diverse Communities project to understand violence prevention in disabled, new migrant, rainbow and older people communities
Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni said it was worrying to see the over-representation of disabled people who are victims of crime.
"It's important that these findings are used to inform policy as we continue to identify and support vulnerable and disabled people, and families in our communities," Sepuloni said.
* This story has been updated to accurately reflect the data