I was recently given the opportunity, along with 40 others, to attend a 1½ day “Train the Trainer” program about abuse prevention strategies for women with disabilities. The participants came from around the country and represented United Cerebral Palsy affiliates, Arc or the American Council for the Blind.
In my opinion, the most fascinating part of the training was learning the statistics related to abuse among people with disabilities. Among women with disabilities, which include physical and cognitive impairments, 83-87 percent experience some sort of abuse in their lifetime, usually from multiple perpetrators and over a longer period of time than in the general population. Among men with disabilities, the rate of abuse is 32 percent. Some of the reasons given for these astounding statistics include: the perceived powerlessness of the victim, isolation among persons with disabilities, lack of access to services and, sometimes, a professional’s perception that the victim cannot be believed because of his/her disability.
We then learned how to provide sexuality information to persons with cognitive disabilities in
order to help them understand that it’s OK not to comply with a request, from anyone, that makes you uncomfortable. Often people with disabilities are shielded from knowledge about sexuality because it’s seen as irrelevant to their lives, according to their parents or caregivers. However, this lack of knowledge about sexuality can be one of the things that makes this population the most vulnerable, as they believe that they must comply with the wishes of those in authority.
So, what can be done to help reduce the incidence of abuse among those with disabilities? We can educate those most directly affected by realizing that everyone is a sexual being from birth. One way to protect and respect this point is by ensuring that it’s understood that your body belongs to you. If anyone threatens your physical or emotional well-being, you have the right to refuse, report and be believed. Those who work with people who have disabilities must recognize the right of PWDs to have their needs met in an environment free from fear. As people with disabilities, we have the right to live in an environment where we’re empowered to accept or reject any situation.
UCP will be sponsoring future workshops on the topic of abuse prevention for women with disabilities. For more information, contact Carol at 651-646-7588.
Carol Ely is the Information & Referral Specialist at United Cerebral Palsy of Minnesota.