Abuse victim speaks out amid calls for action

Posted: 15th March 2023

She was sexually abused by a relative and let down by those who should have been caring for her and nurturing her through life.

Dragged into the care system and having to give evidence about her traumatic and terrifying abuse as a teenager, makes it even more remarkable that the 26-year-old victim will today speak out at a conference to raise awareness of domestic abuse of those living with a disability.
However, surprisingly there are no figures for abuse of those with learning disabilities specifically recorded. It is why the Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities (SCLD) says the invisibility of women with learning disabilities, when it comes to policy and legislation to eradicate gender-based violence in Scotland, should be highlighted as an issue that must be addressed.

The charity says this is underpinned by the fact that there are no figures available to help tackle the problem since the Scottish Government and local authorities do not collect consistent data about women with learning disabilities who have experienced gender-based violence.
In a report to be launched at the conference to address gender-based violence and learning disability today, it reveals women and girls with learning disabilities in Scotland are being regularly targeted and subject to abuse and violence by a wide range of male perpetrators.

The report, Unequal, Unheard, Unjust: But Not Hidden Anymore, reveals the extent of abuse experienced by women with learning disabilities in Scotland; this includes exploitation by the sex industry.
The research, which took place over one year and was funded by a Scottish Government programme, was carried out by SCLD alongside People First (Scotland), a collective self-advocacy organisation run by and for adults with learning disabilities.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was just 19-months-old, the young woman has had to fight for her independence and found her inner strength. When she was 13 she was diagnosed with scoliosis of the spine.

She suffered torment by relatives who put her down and stripped her of her confidence with verbal and physical abuse and was sexually abused when she should have been protected by those she trusted.
It was only when a concerned relative stepped in, police got involved that action was taken. The case did eventually come to court, but the perpetrator received just a three-year community service sentence and was placed on the Sex Offenders Register.
She wasn’t aware that it was abuse until police began to question her.
The woman, who cannot be identified, said: “I suffered verbal abuse which left me anxious and worried and I was constantly put down. I had little self-esteem or confidence. I was young at the time and I didn’t know what was right or wrong and when police became involved it was explained to me that I had been sexually abused. I suppose in a way I had been brainwashed.
“I had to give evidence to police and that was provided by video link to the court. My abuser was never jailed and I don’t think I got justice – how could it be community service? People tried to explain it to me but I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t tagged or sent to prison.”


Since then the 26-year-old has found her voice and her confidence and will address SCLD conference today in Glasgow.
The young woman added: “I am no longer in the care system and have a job in community work helping people. I’ve also written about my experiences which I think has helped me. I am proud of myself to be able to speak at the conference and hope to raise awareness or urge people come forward. Conversations shouldn’t happen behind our back and people need to see us for who we are – we are unique and deserve to be heard.”
The report drew upon existing evidence on the topic. A small-scale study in Glasgow (Wisewoman 2015) found that 73 per cent of the participating disabled woman had experienced domestic abuse and 43% had been sexually assaulted.
In 2018, Engender looked at global rates of gender-based violence and suggested that 90% of women with learning disabilities have been subject to sexual abuse, with 68% experiencing sexual abuse before turning 18. International studies demonstrate that people with a learning disability may be 10-12 times more likely to experience sexual assault than their non-disabled peers (US Department of Justice, 2015).
SCLD’s research reveals that often women with learning disabilities don’t report gender-based violence because they fear negative assumptions about their abilities and heavy-handed and inappropriate legislative processes such as guardianship, adult support and protection, and child protection.
The charity believes from the interviews they conducted as part of the research that women and girls women and girls with learning disabilities are more likely to experience abuse than their non-disabled counterparts because of their perceived vulnerability and exposure to potential perpetrators, including family members, care staff and partners.
Michelle Mair, Gender-Based Violence Project Adviser for SCLD said: “We know from the women we work with that gender-based violence is a huge issue. However, we have uncovered a glaring void when it comes to Scottish statistics. As well as the pressing need for data to be collected, policy and legislation has to change for women to feel confident about coming forward.
“We found that it can take some time for women with learning disabilities to recognise what has happened to them and report the abuse due to a lack of appropriate relationship, sexual health and parenthood education being provided.
“This is compounded by the fact that if women do decide to come forward they may not be believed. The fact they do not have the same access to support and services as non-disabled women in the same situation is a massive problem, a violation of human rights and a barrier to justice.”
Victimisation and abuse, says the report, also takes place online, with men adding women to so-called “sex groups” on social media platforms; this could also lead to them being abused in person.
When it comes to the police and other professionals, states the report, they often lack the training to work with women with learning disabilities and perpetrators are very rarely prosecuted and convicted.
Ms Mair added: “We recommend a number of measures including the Scottish Government establishing a national advocacy service for disabled women, including women with learning disabilities, who have experienced gender-based violence, to help them access support and justice.
“There’s a lot being done to raise awareness of, and address, gender-based violence towards women but it’s clear there is a huge gap in policy, legislation and support when it comes to violence against women and girls with learning disabilities.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said violence against women is a fundamental violation of human rights and is totally unacceptable.

They added: “The Scottish Government is fully committed to tackling this issue. We are currently implementing ‘Equally Safe’, Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.

“SCLD is funded through Delivering Equally Safe to ensure that women and girls with learning disabilities, and the services who support them, better understand and are more able to recognise, report and address Gender Based Violence.

“We will continue working in partnership with SCLD and People First (Scotland), who facilitate the Scottish Government’s Gender-Based Violence and Learning Disability Steering Group, to explore the findings of this report.

“Scottish Government representatives at the conference will carefully consider discussions and take any findings on board.”


Source: The Herald

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