Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sexual Violence Of People With Disabilities

Last month I attended the presentation Sexual Violence and People with Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and How to Prevent It by Nancy Fitzsimons from Minnesota State University at Mankato. This topic is too often overlooked by people who assume that sexual violence won't happen if people make what they call smart lifestyle choices.

I want to provide some of the great information she provided in her presentation. My comments will be shorter than some other summaries I've done because the handouts are available online.

There are a couple of points from this presentation I want to highlight. The first is that the label given to someone with a disability tells us nothing about that individual but labels are often used as if they do describe the individual. Semantics do matter because they impact action.

People with disabilities face higher rates of non-fatal violence than people without disabilities. In some areas the risk can be double. The most common perpetrators are those known by the victim. Yet people with disabilities are too often not listened to when they disclose abuse or complain about an abuser.

A key to prevention is to understand that sexual violence needs oppression for it to be widespread. One way this oppression shows itself is when people with disabilities are viewed as less credible than people without disabilities. If we eliminate what are considered the mildest forms of oppression then the worst forms won't have the foundation they need. Oppression can come through rules which help abusers and which can punish victims who get angry or who become uncooperative even when they have good reassons for both.

When it comes to risk of abuse we need to understand that institutions are the people in the system. If the people don't change then external change causes no real change in risk.

Many people use a person's disability to assume that the report is a fantasy or a misunderstanding of what happened. People also dismiss red flags of abuse by viewing those red flags as a side effect of the person's disability. Because disclosures are often dismissed some people with disabilities will talk around the abuse to check the reaction before risking a direct disclosure.

I recommend taking the time to read the handouts provided at the workshop. Also check out these disability abuse resources. Fitzsimons has also written a book titled Combating Violence & Abuse of People With Disabilities: A Call to Action.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:34 AM   0 comments links to this post


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