On Taxis and Vulnerability

On Saturday night, I caught a taxi.

Unremarkable, right? Not anything particularly adventurous – nothing that would make your heart start racing and turn your stomach into knots way up near your tonsils. Not something risky that you’d tell others about – it wasn’t like I went paintballing or skydiving or swimming with sharks.

To me, it felt like risk. I carefully noted the taxi driver’s registration, something I rarely do. And my ‘tactical’ pen (yes, my husband bought me a Smith and Wesson pen made of titanium, purpose built for the casual stabbing of rapists and thugs) was tucked neatly inside my bag.

A few short weeks ago, women who use wheelchairs were blissfully oblivious to the dangers posed by their vulnerability whilst using Perth taxis. Then 58 year old Peter Edward Kasatchkow was charged of sexually assaulting a woman with cerebral palsy in the back of his cab last month.

Let me explain what it feels like to be put in a wheelchair taxi. It is an experience that involves contact, and lots of it. You wheel yourself (or are wheeled) to a ramp, and are raised up to the back of the platform. And then your wheelchair is strapped in by the driver – blue nylon webbing straps fasten your wheelchair to the floor. The driver leans down, his head near your feet, to strap you in tightly and ratchet you in place. Behind your back, more straps secure your chair more tightly. And the final securing of the passenger and wheelchair is often the driver wrapping his hands around your waist to secure your belt – it is a routine experience for me, and I am relatively mobile. It doesn’t matter if you are wearing a business suit, nor if you are carrying a briefcase – for those short few moments you are locked into an act where you are close to another human who is carrying out an act of personal care for you.

Peter Edward Kasatchkow probably did that for his passenger. Then, it is alleged, he drove her to a secluded area and sexually assaulted her.

This isn’t the horrible part of the story. What? You were expecting outrage? No, people with disability are raped every day, in and out of care, usually by people in positions of trust. This brave young woman, who reported the assault to her support person, will have to live with not only the awful trauma of being sexually assaulted by a taxi driver, but will also need to catch taxis for the rest of her life. Imagine that. You are raped in a dark lane, then must walk down dark lanes every night until you die. That is indubitably horrible.

What is even more horrible – awfully, incomprehensibly horrible – is that this man is alleged to be a serial rapist. And even worse, that nobody much seems to care.

Perth is a small place. We know the details that others don’t know. The name of the taxi company, a company many of us are studiously now avoiding – the fact that the police apparently discovered that he’d tried to conceal his offenses by wrapping a rag around the camera, a trick which only partially worked. Nobody told, you see. The rag slipped, the actions were recorded. And today, Peter Edward Kasatchkow, a Polish man from Dianella, was charged with twelve more offences – against a woman in her thirties and a woman in her fifties. The offences are alleged to have taken place in January and February of this year, and we hear that police had a tough time tracking down the victims from the camera footage.

If you have an intellectual disability, nobody sees, nobody hears. If your taxi is late, why, the traffic was bad. If you wake up screaming, you have ‘behavioural issues’ and somebody will probably adjust your medication. In the early 1990s, thirty children were routinely preyed upon by a paedophile bus driver, who worked for a Catholic school in South Australia. One boy screamed so hard every night that his parents went to sleep in the garden shed.

I read the charges – 12 counts of indecently dealing with an incapable person – with a sinking feeling. Because the questions that are raised are innumerable.

If the footage isn’t of sufficient quality, will the victims with intellectual disability be able to testify?

Why has the man been charged with ‘indecently dealing with an incapable person’, a charge that has recently resulted in a ‘getting off scot free’ result, rather than harsher charges? For example, a taxi driver charged with the recent sexual assault of a seventeen year old Kalgoorlie girl has been charged with indecent assault, deprivation of liberty and sexual penetration without consent.

And the biggest question of all - if the camera only captured two months’ worth of footage – how many others are there?

Tomorrow, the charges will be heard in the Perth Magistrate’s Court. And I will be thinking of this young woman, who stands for all of us. We will not be afraid to catch a taxi. We will support you in any way we can, our disability community, to pursue justice for the others and for the rest of us. If this man is found guilty, we will lobby for the harshest possible sentence to be delivered.

Because no woman should be scared to walk, or wheel alone.


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