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"I call him the monster. Why? Because that's what he is."

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Shocking allegations have emerged that one of Australia’s biggest disability providers failed to act on warnings about carers who went on to sexually assault vulnerable clients.

Trigger warning: This article deals with abuse and may be triggering for some readers. 

Victoria’s Government and Opposition have both pledged to hold an inquiry into the state’s disability sector, amid allegations one of Australia’s biggest disability providers failed to act on warnings about carers who went on to sexually assault vulnerable clients.

The pledge comes ahead of tonight’s Four Corners program In Our Care – a joint ABC/Fairfax investigation – and days out from the Victorian state election.

The program exposes multiple cases involving sexual assault, harassment and other improper behaviour, along with evidence carers kept working despite warnings they were assaulting clients.

Disability workers, carers and experts have called for a wider national inquiry into what they say is an epidemic of sexual abuse within the sector. The ABC understands disability service provider Yooralla’s chief executive has now resigned.

Victim Jules Anderson said she has lost faith in Yooralla after learning there were warning signs for years about the carer who eventually attacked her in her group home.

Casual Yooralla worker Vinod Johnny Kumar, 31, was last year jailed for 18 years for raping four profoundly disabled people in his care, including Ms Anderson.

Yooralla sexual assault
Vinod Kumar was jailed for 18 years for raping profoundly disabled people in his care. (Photo: Lisa Nolan)
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“I call him the monster. Why? Because that’s what he is,” Ms Anderson told Four Corners.

“That’s what he is and will always be and he’s taken something from me as a person that I’ll never get back.

“Now that I’ve found out that they [Yooralla] have known for a long, long time about the monster and other people like him, it’s just time for me to speak out.”

Former Yooralla house manager Jacinta Powell said that she banned Kumar from working in two houses in 2011 – a year before he assaulted Jules and others.

“He wasn’t working as a team member, he wanted to work individually,” Ms Powell said.

“He was disregarding any safety that we were putting into place and was making up his own procedures and policies and following what he wanted to do, not what the organisation and what the clients needed.”

Victoria’s Department of Human Services (DHS) also said it had resolved to review Yooralla’s operations, in addition to an accreditation audit currently underway.

“If Yooralla cannot demonstrate that it meets required standards, it will be at risk of losing its accreditation to provide services for Victorians with a disability, and of losing government funding,” the department said in a statement.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge said there would be a major review of Yooralla, as well as a broader inquiry.

“There will be what’s called a service review of Yooralla, which looks at the policies and procedures and how they translate to the safety and well-being of their clients,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“Secondly, we will be undertaking a parliamentary committee inquiry into the broader issue of systemic mistreatment, abuse and neglect of people with a disability in residential accommodation.

“The service review that we are undertaking is unusual, very few are conducted, because we will have a thorough look at the policies and procedures and performance of Yooralla, in terms of the safety and well-being of clients, and the organisation will be held to account for its performance.”

Ms Wooldridge said allegations of a culture of cover-up at Yooralla should also be investigated.

Yooralla sexual assault
The culture of cover-up needs to be addressed.
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“I do believe and have been advised that Yooralla has taken on the issues of concern very actively and sought to drive the change that is needed,” she said.

“What we need to make sure of though, is what management are deciding translates to what’s happening at the grass roots, in the houses, where people with a disability reside.”

The Labor Opposition has also vowed to hold an inquiry, saying the Napthine Government had failed to act.

‘Dozens to hundreds’ of cases throughout Australia

Former National Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes has called for a national inquiry, and believes there are “dozens to hundreds” of similar abuse and neglect cases throughout Australia.

“We have a wave of these cases which are going to emerge over the next few years and we need to be preparing for that,” he said.

“And we need to be ready to address it and proactively change the culture in these organisations, or changing the organisations themselves.”

The number of independent group homes for disabled people is set to rapidly expand as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) rolls out across the nation.

Yoralla’s chairperson at the time of the assaults was Bruce Bonyhady, who now heads the NDIS. He declined to be interviewed by Four Corners, as did Yoralla CEO Sanjib Roy.

In a statement, Yooralla said the organisation was “deeply sorry for the distress of clients affected by the inappropriate, and in some cases criminal, behaviour of a small number of staff”.

“Yooralla is committed to continuous review and improvement of its systems, processes and services to ensure we do all we can to provide high quality services to the clients,” the statement said.

A number of former Yooralla workers have joined the call for an inquiry, saying that when they tried to raise concerns with their managers they were pushed out of the organisation – or worse.

Former worker Gerard Butler was charged – but later avoided a criminal conviction – after accessing and leaking internal Yooralla files that he said showed the organisation was failing the victims.

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Assaults and abuse ‘grossly under-reported’

Kumar had been able to retain his job at Yooralla despite two separate reports of abuse in 2011 – a sexual assault that was recorded by staff as “sexual harassment”; and an incident where Kumar twisted the nipple of a disabled resident.

Victoria Police Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning, from the Sexual and Family Violence Division, said sexual assaults against people with a disability were grossly under-reported.

Yooralla sexual assault
Jules Anderson has launched civil action against Yooralla, an organisation she has known almost her entire life. (Image via ABC)

“Some predators actually see that vulnerability and they will always target those that are most vulnerable,” he said.

“We’ve got those with a cognitive impairment, that communication can be an issue, so … they think they will get away with this, they sexually offend and that person is incapable of relaying that information on.”

For Jules, one of the few victims who has achieved justice, it is a long path to recovery.

Almost a year after Kumar was jailed, she is still haunted by her memories.

“I’m still living with it on a regular basis, I still have flashbacks, I still have injuries, skin injuries from my nights terrors that are really hard to be healed,” she said.

She has launched civil action against Yooralla, an organisation she has known almost her entire life.

“I feel that they’ve let me down, I can’t trust them anymore,” she said.

“I think it’s important that I speak out now for future people who might be not able to speak or [are] too scared to speak out. It’s a pretty horrendous thing to go through.”

This post was originally published by the ABC and is republished with full permission. 

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