Tag Archives: disabled survivors

Disabled people and domestic abuse – we need to do better

Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women, yet support services aren’t always accessible. Disabled people can also face unique challenges in recognising and reporting abuse. It’s an issue that isn’t often spoken about. This needs to change.

With this in mind, domestic abuse charity Safe Lives is doing a ‘spotlight’ throughout October and November, focusing on how professionals can better support disabled people experiencing abuse. They have been posting resources, webinars, blogs and podcasts and they are doing a live Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

We spoke to Carly, an advocate for autism and girls, about why this is so important.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 32 which is a late diagnosis, but autism in girls wasn’t really understood. I have three daughters; two of them are autistic as well, which is how I found out that I was. I was looking up everything I could about autism and girls and thought “I’m autistic too” – I ended up being diagnosed on film!  The consequences of not being diagnosed can be severe, including being in unhealthy relationships.

Recognising and reporting abuse can be harder for disabled people

For us all in society, disabled or not, the very nature of what abuse is can be murky. All too often we see adverts of women with bruises as an image of domestic abuse. Abuse, however, takes many forms. It’s difficult enough to recognise and report abuse for anyone experiencing it, but for disabled people it can be even harder.

The choice for a disabled person to leave their abuser is not an equal choice to those who do not rely on their abuser for their daily care as well. And how can a person with a social and communication condition have the equality of access to leave, when they may not even realise that what they are experiencing is abuse?

A lot of autistic people are vulnerable because of our lack of social imagination which is about understanding “If I do this, what happens next?” – consequences. We’re very often so consumed in our own thoughts that we think other people have the same wants, needs and agendas as we do, which can lead to us being very vulnerable. Another thing is our theory of mind – we imagine that other people have similar thoughts to us. So if you knew you were experiencing abuse, you may not report it because you think that other people already know. Because you know, they must do too. It can lead to an autistic person being very angry and resentful because they think “Why aren’t you helping me?” – it’s because that person doesn’t know. You need to ask us direct questions, basically.

Carly sitting at the UN with a few people in the background
Carly, speaking at the UN about autism and girls

A “one size fits all” approach to domestic abuse doesn’t work

It’s only in recent times that coercive control has become a legal offence. For someone on the autistic spectrum who requires support with their routine, the control of their lifestyle, the control of their access to social events and family and control of their money, this could easily disguise an abusive relationship to an onlooker. Mix this with an autistic person’s fear of dramatic change, delay in emotional processing and the theory of mind differences described above, and you can see how someone may not seek help.

We need our safeguarding explained in a different way and support services need to be more accessible. The stuff that’s out there is really good but some little add ons would help. I’ve had a meeting with the NSPCC about their schools workshops and I’ve created a short online course on safeguarding for people with autism, which is free to do. Hopefully it will help people think differently.

Including disabled people in these important conversations

Safe Lives’ spotlight on this issue is vital. The protection of disabled people from abuse is a multi-layered complex matter that simply is not covered by standard safeguarding projects. The media also all too often leave our unique needs and experiences to one side in the vital adverts  and workshops on abuse – how to recognise it and how to seek help.

I think for many people, disabled adults are either viewed as not having relationships or sex and therefore void from these conversations, or seen as just being able to access the same sexual health and abuse information as everyone else. Of course, in reality, this is not the case. The most vulnerable in society are often the last to be supported. Disabled people aren’t asking for special treatment but we are asking for a fitting reflection of our experiences in society and to be part of the conversation, a seamless inclusion and not an afterthought.

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, you can contact the Samaritans or your local Refuge service for support.

You can find all Safe Lives’ content on their website and take part in the Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

Disabled Survivors Unite is an organisation working to improve access to services for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence. Visit their website to find out more.

We need to do more for disabled survivors like me – Ashley

30 under 30 logo

 

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

Trigger warning: mentions sexual assault, rape, suicide attempt

Ashley is a campaigner. As a survivor of sexual assault, Ashley is passionate about bringing about change for disabled survivors, who are often overlooked. Through Scope for Change – Scope’s training programme for young disabled campaigners – Ashley has teamed up with others to set up Disabled Survivors Unite. Their goal is to combat domestic abuse and sexual violence against disabled people.

As part of 30 Under 30, Ashley talks about the need for disabled survivors’ voices to be heard, shares their own journey and talks about their plans for the future.

I am a survivor of sexual assault

I’m going to share my story because I don’t want others to feel ashamed or alone. I was drugged and assaulted in London when I was 21. Due to my autism, I often go non-verbal under stress, but I was very clear that I did not want to have sex with this man, this stranger. What I wanted was of no importance to him. Afterwards, I fell into a deep hole that no one seemed prepared to help me out of. The knowledge wasn’t there for someone like me, a rape victim with autism, chronic illnesses, and ill mental health.

And so the months went by without proper support and, upon hearing the case would not go forward, I tried to kill myself. I remember waking up in the hospital bed with an apologetic doctor explaining that England didn’t have any support set up for people like me. My family watched as my physical health deteriorated and I retreated further into my head. No one knew what to do.

I found support from other survivors

Two years later, I made it to a survivor’s writing session and found a group of people just like me. Most had disabilities of varying kinds and it was the first time since my assault that I felt a sense of purpose. We decided to band together and start something – we came up with The (re)Storytellers Project.

The idea was to create a template to be used at universities for writing groups of survivors and victims to support each other, as the waiting lists for Rape Crisis counselling can be incredibly long. Through this group, I discovered that the most important thing to me was to protect the countless others who had been through what I had.

Ashley at a garden party, smiling with a drink

Working with other young campaigners

Through Scope for Change, a training programme for young disabled campaigners, I learned just how valuable our voices are as young disabled people. We were taught how to utilise social media, film, and various other campaign tactics to get our voices out there; but, most importantly, I think we all came away more confident in asserting ourselves and our varying needs.

It’s hard to express just how important Scope For Change is to me as a disabled person who has spent most of their life incredibly isolated – to be in a room full of fellow disabled people who want to change the world is absolutely glorious.

Why we set up Disabled Survivors Unite

I struggle every day with the knowledge that my situation is not an uncommon one. As I’ve become more involved with the disability community, it’s been made very clear that sexual violence is an epidemic that is rarely discussed with us in mind. It’s my goal to change that.

People like me often go unheard. Disabled people are desexualised to such a degree in the eyes of the public that the possibility of us being victims doesn’t even occur to people. When I was raped, my disabilities were ignored by those in charge of helping me.

At the Scope For Change residential several of us realised we wanted to campaign about similar issues. As a survivor myself, I’ve had many difficulties getting specialised support and couldn’t stand to let others feel alone in that. We want Disabled Survivors Unite to become a non-profit organisation built around fighting domestic abuse and sexual violence against disabled people.

Our plans for the future

Our first step towards our goal is The (re)Storytellers Project. With Disabled Survivors Unite, we’re taking that idea to the next level and collecting stories, letters, and notes of support, anonymously or otherwise, to better amplify the voices of disabled victims and survivors.

We hope that sharing these stories will both create a feeling of community for those involved and bring about change in the way that disabled victims and survivors are viewed and treated.

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, you can contact the Samaritans or Scope’s helpline for support.

To find out more and support Ashley’s work, visit Disabled Survivors Unite.

Ashley is sharing their story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.