Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Abuse is the Norm?

I recently came across a report on Violence Against Disabled Children prepared by UNICEF, and was shocked to hear them say that 90% of developmentally disabled people in one study had been sexually abused, and 80% of deaf people in another study.
I was not able to find the studies they got those rates from, but I found some other relevant studies. In the Journal of the American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry volume 333(4) pages 567-576, they studied developmentally disabled kids in a psychiatric hospital and found that 61% had been abused. In the Journal of Rehabilitation volume 68(1) pages 4-13, they studied disabled women (mostly physically disabled) and found that 67% had been physically abused and 53% sexually abused. In Augmentative and Alternative Communication volume 19(2) pages 125-134, 45% of AAC users reported having been the victim of a crime or abuse. In Sexuality and Disability volume 12(4) pages 297-306, they found that 27% of mildly developmentally delayed adults had been raped, as opposed to 4% of psychology students. They also found that most of the disabled study participants didn't know what incest and rape meant (the words were later defined before asking if they'd experienced it), didn't know what to do if they experienced unwanted touch or were sexually abused (the 'correct' answer was to 'respond assertively' or 'tell someone') and that 27% thought they couldn't say no to sex and 36% said someone else should decide for them whether they have sex or not.
With many of these studies, abuse survivors are actually the majority of disabled people. And in most cases, this is those who say they were abused when asked as part of the study. How many more who were unwilling to talk about it or didn't realize they'd been abused (for example, thinking what was done to them is normal)?
It's shocking. Think of this: it is more unusual for disabled people not to have been abused. I always assumed that having been sexually abused made me a minority, both in the general population and among autistic people. Though none of the above studies gave information on the rates of abuse among autistics, most likely the rates are fairly similar to other developmentally disabled people.
These studies suggest a much needed shift in perspective. You can't just assume they weren't abused until you find out they were. In fact, it may be safer to assume that they were abused, by someone, until you find out they were not.
I figured emotional abuse would be extremely high, near-universal, but these studies didn't look at emotional abuse. They looked at physical and sexual abuse and occasionally neglect. Even those more overt forms of abuse are extremely common among disabled people.

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2 Comments:

Blogger shiva said...

This doesn't surprise me at all TBH.

Consider that, in the UK, surveys have shown that 1 in 4 women have been raped. Of course, what that actually means is that 1 in 4 women have reported being raped - the number of women who never report is, by necessity, unknowable.

Factor into that that the UK is probably one of the best countries in the world in terms of women's rights, that systematic rape has been used as a weapon of war in just about every war in human history, that in many countries rape within marriage is not even recognised as rape (and in many of those countries nearly all women are married, and most of the time have little or no choice in who they marry), and that there are multiple forms of sexual abuse that are not always classified as rape, then i think it would be a reasonable assumption that a global majority of women are sexual abuse survivors.

I don't 100% agree with radical feminism on everything, but i think one of the genuinely important things it did was to highlight the fact that sexual abuse and sexual violence are not something rare and anomalous, but something endemic to patriarchal society, and part of an overall system of oppression rather than an individual tragedy - which, of course, closely parallels the social model of disability.

Institutionalisation doesn't just cause abuse, it is abuse.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Child Person said...

Doesn't surprise me either...wish it did.

I'd like to add to this conversation that boys and men need to be acknowledged as victims, and women, to a lesser degree, as perpetrators of sexual abuse. Some studies indicate 1 0f 3girls are sexually abused and 1 of 5 boys, before age 18.

Add the other forms of abuse and one has to wonder if abuse isn't more than just the norm...it's the Way of Life for most...maybe all...children.

I too wish that emotional abuse would gain more notice as seriously debilitating to the developing brain/mind/personality and so forth.

Actually, I don't see how any abuse doesn't have an element of emotional abuse as a "natural" part of the norm!

6:54 AM  

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