Somewhere in Perth, there lives a hero.
The young woman I speak of is only 29 years old. She is an unlikely hero in the eyes of the public – she is severely affected by cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair for mobility.
In February of this year, a Perth taxi driver, 58 year old Peter Kasatchkow, drove this young woman to an Ascot carpark, some kilometres from her destination. There, he repeatedly sexually assaulted her.
Remember this. The young woman was strapped in with four straps of nylon webbing. That, and her disability, made her effectively a helpless victim. Trapped in the back of the taxi van, she was unable to move or escape or fight back. And when he had finished, he drove her home.
The most vulnerable and powerless of victims, you would think. But you would be wrong. Upon arriving home, this young woman who had been sexually assaulted and threatened and terrified, signalled to one of her support workers to record the taxi driver’s registration number. And that was the beginning of the downfall of Peter Kasatchkow.
When police investigated the security cameras, they discovered that Kasatchkow had been a busy predator. He’d sexually assaulted not just one wheelchair user, but a bunch of others – four in a two month period. And upon assaulting his fifth victim – 33 attacks over January and February of 2014 – he did not realise that the rag that he used to cover the security camera had slipped, that his victim did not have an intellectual disability. That unlike the others – that his victim could tell, and testify. And did.
Today, Kasatchkow pleaded guilty to 33 charges of sexual assault, including assaults against the other women, all of whom had a cognitive disability. The newspapers will tell you that. But they won’t tell you everything.
They will tell you that the last victim is now too frightened to use wheelchair taxis and is effectively trapped at home, being treated for PTSD. But they won’t tell you that the Taxi Council and Black and White Taxis never once contacted her to offer support, let alone an alternative means of transport.
They will tell you that the young woman is shattered and that she feels disabled for the first time in her life. Disabled and helpless, she says. But they will not talk about the other victims, nor how they felt – because as women with intellectual disability, they have no voice. If the footage had not been discovered after the report, they would, no doubt, be recorded as having ‘behavioural issues’ and treated accordingly.
They will tell you the statistics around sexual assault of women with and without disability, as recorded in the courts – but they will not tell you how many of those cases never go to court, because the victim cannot testify.
And they will not tell you the ‘word on the street’ – that this predator was moved sideways from his job at the Department of Education and Training, rather than being charged. He had allegedly been downloading porn on a colleague’s computer. If he had been charged, he would never have been driving that taxi on that day.
I can’t help but think of the other women, the nameless women whose faces were erased from the tape that commenced recording on the 1st of January, 2014. I wonder how many of them were in a taxi with that driver, and how many parents and family members will endlessly wonder, left forever without an answer.
One thing is for certain. This young woman is undoubtedly an unsung hero. Not just for the other four women, but for other wheelchair users, other disabled women. By taking action, by speaking out, in the midst of her anguish and pain and fear, she has singlehandedly removed a predator from the streets. She has put into motion a scrutiny that did not exist before around vulnerable people who use taxis and the checks and balances that are sadly missing.
You, courageous young woman, have done what others have not been able to do. You are not a victim, but a survivor. If you had not spoken, another woman would have gone through what you have gone through, this week, last week, next week. From all of us – thank you.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Mark Twain