Tomorrow, a man named Peter Edward Kasatchkow will be sentenced for 33 counts of sexual assault against five women with disability.
Mr Kasatchkow was a taxi driver, and as such, held a position of trust. He routinely drove people with disability in his Maxi Taxi to and from work or other places.
Most of the people Kasatchkow transported had disabilities that severely impacted upon their lives. The 29 year old woman who caught his taxi on February 3 was no exception. She has cerebral palsy, uses an electric wheelchair and has great difficulty speaking. When Kasatchkow drove her to a racecourse car park at Ascot and sexually assaulted her, he probably never dreamed that she would be able to alert her support workers to the abuse, much less ask them to record his registration number.
In WA, only police are able to access taxi security camera footage, which is used to provide evidence in court when taxi drivers have been assaulted. It is not monitored in any other way, and police will only access the footage if a crime is reported. The footage is routinely deleted at the beginning of each year.
Police almost certainly did not expect what they found on the security cameras. During the first 34 days in 2014, the cameras had caught Kasatchkow raping or indecently assaulting five disabled women – thirty three times.
On April 14, Peter Edward Kasatchkow, 58, of Dianella, was charged with 29 counts of indecently dealing with an incapable person, one count of aggravated indecent assault and three counts of aggravated sexual penetration without consent. He pleaded guilty to all charges.
If it had not been for the fact that his last victim had been both brave and articulate and had communicated the abuse to the authorities, there is no doubt that Perth women with disability would continue to be raped on a daily basis. Some people cannot speak, you see. And nobody would ever know.
This is what keeps me awake at night – how many more victims are there?
The security camera started rolling on January 1, and by February 3 Kasatchkow had raped or indecently assaulted thirty three times. It’s highly unlikely that Kasatchkow, who had worked for the Department of Education and who had transported people to and from school and disability service settings for years, had suddenly developed a New Year’s resolution to rape a passenger a day. Predators generally have a history of predatory behaviour.
Sadly, this story is nothing new. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is currently hearing evidence about the St Ann’s Special School case in Adelaide. Bus driver Brian Perkins abused up to thirty children, but the police and school authorities did not tell all the parents whose children had come into contact with Perkins. And for ten years, those children developed ‘behavioural problems’ – one boy sobbed inconsolably when he saw Santa (Perkins had a beard), another family resorted to sleeping in the garden shed because their child screamed himself hoarse every night after the lights were out.
The abuse – and the fact that Perkins had been caught with naked photographs of many schoolchildren, but was never convicted after escaping bail – was only discovered and raised publicly after a chance encounter between parents.
The statistics are telling. Women with Disabilities Australia say that women with disabilities are denied their right to freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse – they experience alarmingly high rates of all forms of violence and abuse from a range of perpetrators yet remain excluded from violence prevention legislation, policies, services and supports. They continue to be assaulted, raped and abused at a rate of at least two times greater than other women. Both men and women with disability are far more likely to be abused than their able bodied counterparts, and people with intellectual disability are 10.7% more likely to be victims of sexual assault.
You’d expect a public and immediate response from the taxi and transport industries about the safety of vulnerable people. But in the wake of the Kasatchkow scandal, there has been nothing but a resounding silence. The last victim’s mother reports that she received no contact or offer of support from the taxi company, despite the fact that her daughter is too frightened to use wheelchair taxis and is effectively trapped at home – the cost of hiring a wheelchair accessible van is about $1000 a week. Neither did she receive a call from the Taxi Council, who rather defensively say that they acted appropriately by immediately suspending Kasatchkow’s license. They’ve also implemented a taxi driver demerit system – if you have a car crash or carry out a criminal activity, you can now have demerit points accumulated against you. There are no plans to monitor the security cameras, nor make changes to the system in other ways, they say – they don’t have the resources.
On Friday, a number of Western Australians with disability and their families will be present to bear witness to the sentencing of Peter Edward Kasatchkow. But how many of them will be able to get inside? When I phoned the District Court to ask about the accessibility of the courtrooms, the staff member told me that there was only one wheelchair accessible space in each court room. Despite the fact that the District Court building was constructed only five years ago.
All five victims use a wheelchair.
We people with disability are routinely denied access to justice, education, transport, services, facilities and employment. On Friday, I will join others who are thinking of the victims. Inside and outside the courtroom.