DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

 

YOU   DESERVE  TO  BE  SAFE
A Guide For Girls With Disabilities

February 5 , 2002


YOU DESERVE TO BE SAFE
A Guide For Girls With Disabilities

This resource guide was produced by DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) Ontario

Written by Lorna Renooy
Copyright 2002 DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

Plain language by Precise Communications


DAWN Ontario gratefully acknowledges funding received from the Disabled Persons Participation Program, Human Resources Development Canada, and the Violence Prevention Fund at the Canadian Women's Foundation.

The support and advice of Robyn Artemis, Penny Baltzer, Lucy Costa-Nyman, Jo-Ann Fortin, Pat Israel, Fran Odette, Doris Rajan Eastcott, Amy Rusak, Nicole Soucy, and Kristen Spring is greatly appreciated.

About This Resource Guide
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If you are a girl with a disability, this guide is for you.

DAWN Ontario produced this guide to talk about the specific problems of violence and abuse that you may experience. We spoke with some girls with disabilities about their concerns. Much of what we heard has helped us develop this guide.

When we talk about girls with disabilities, we include many different types of disability. They can be a mobility, visual, or hearing disability. They can also be a facial disfigurement, or communication, learning, psychiatric or developmental disability. Some girls may also have hidden disabilities such as a chronic illness, diabetes, epilepsy or environmental illness.

"There are only two people in my school who have a physical disability, and I'm one of them. I have problems when I try to use my wheelchair in the crowded hallways. People give me a hard time and say that I'm in the way."

Negative attitudes in society about disability make it more likely that girls with disabilities will experience violence and abuse.

"My mother is always coming down on me real hard because of my disability. She tells me how stupid and slow I am, and she threatens to physically hurt me. The abuse is scariest when it comes from someone you know and love."

In many cases, girls with disabilities do not experience violence and abusive behaviour from strangers, but from people they know and trust.

"This guy at my work kept bugging me to be his girlfriend. I guess he thought I was an easy target because I have cerebral palsy."

Like all women, girls with disabilities experience sexual harassment and assault. (1)


Violence And Abuse Can Happen In Many Different Ways
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Physical Abuse causes hurt or injury to the body. Examples of this are hitting, kicking or shaking someone, using too much physical force as punishment, or rough handling. It can also mean taking away something that a girl with a disability may need, such as a white cane, dog guide or bliss board.

Sexual assault happens when someone forces another person into any sexual activity. This includes forced sex (intercourse), touching the private areas (genitals) of a girl with a disability without her permission, forcing her to kiss, or not respecting her privacy or space. Also, the girl may be forced to touch her abuser's genitals.

Verbal abuse is using words to hurt another person and to destroy her self-esteem. Some examples of verbal abuse are: swearing at a girl with a disability, telling her she is not a good person, dwelling on her mistakes, or calling her names that make her feel terrible.

Emotional or psychological abuse are actions that negatively affect the self-esteem or self-image of a girl with a disability. This can be ignoring her, constantly disapproving of things she says or does, or making her feel that she is "not good enough". Emotional or psychological abuse can also mean taking away, or threatening to take away, something which the girl values, if she does not co-operate.

Neglect is depriving a disabled girl of her basic needs and human rights. For example, if she needs help to bathe regularly, but does not get this help, this is neglect. She many not have enough food to eat, or she may be left alone for a long time.

Various types of abuse can, and often do, occur together. For example, a girl with a disability may experience physical and verbal abuse. (2)

Violence and abuse can happen when someone has power and control over a girl with a disability. You experience empowerment when you make your own choices or decisions.


Why Does The Abuse Happen?
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Because of society's lack of understanding, many people may think that girls with disabilities do not experience violence and abuse. Also, some people may think that disabled people are not sexual or that no one would ever want to harm a girl with a disability. Such assumptions are not true. Over two thirds of women with disabilities have been physically or sexually assaulted as children. (3)

One young woman with a disability spoke about the "pain of trying to be accepted". One girl told us her friend said he "couldn't live like her". Another girl said she experienced pressure from her family to be more "normal". Comments and attitudes like these can cause girls with disabilities to have a poor self-image. They many also feel helpless to change anything, or that they are not worthy of all the good things life has to offer. These feelings can make it more difficult to speak out against the violence.

Girls and young women with disabilities experience higher rates of violence than non-disabled girls of the same ages. Several factors, in addition to those already discussed, can contribute to this.]

  • Disabled girls may have many caregivers in their lives. The more people who are providing services for them, the more likely they are to experience abuse or violent actions against them.

  • Power and authority is often used to punish girls with disabilities or control their behaviour.

  • Girls with disabilities who complain about abuse or violence many note be believed.

  • Some girls with disabilities who have experience violence are frightened. They fear that they will be separated from their families, or that they will lose need services.

  • Due to limited sex education and isolation, some young girls with disabilities may not understand what is happening to them in an abusive situation. They may not recognize it as abuse.

  • Girls with disabilities may be isolated. They may not know where to go for help, who to talk to or what to do if they experience violence.

Where does violence and abuse happen?
The girls we spoke with named many places where violent or abusive situations can happen. These included home, school, institutional settings (including a group home), the doctor's office, a workplace, or at bus shelters and taxi stands. Abuse can also happen while riding in a bus or taxi. Abuse can happen anywhere.

Who abuses young women with disabilities?
Family members or relatives, caregivers, doctors, friends, foster parents, neighbours, teachers or strangers were some of the abusers the girls mentioned. Anyone can abuse young women with disabilities.

When does violence happen?
Violence and abuse can take place at anytime. One young woman said it can be scariest at night when you are alone, or when the abuse is from someone you know and love.

How are young women with disabilities affected by violence and abuse?
The experience of abuse can affect young women in different ways. How one girl deals with it will vary from another.

Disabled girls who experience violence and abuse may feel much shame, guilt and self-hatred. They may have difficulty forming healthy relationships and knowing who to trust. They may experience depression or severe headaches, develop eating disorders or have difficulty concentrating. They may begin to drink alcohol or use drugs when they feel sad or when they don't want to remember things. Sometimes violence and abuse can worsen a disability, or even cause one.

You Deserve to be Safe
Violence and abuse are social problems. In a society that devalues women and disability, girls with disabilities experience violence, discrimination and prejudice daily.

You need to know what to do to prevent violence and abuse from happening to you.

  • Trust your instincts if you feel uncomfortable in a situation.

  • Say no very assertively and express your feelings.

  • Realize that you may not be able to confront a difficult situation alone. It is important to have friends to support you.

  • Leave the situation if possible.

  • Know where to go and who to call for help.

  • Talk to others who you can trust.

  • Take a self-defence course.

  • Remember that you are not powerless.

Girls with disabilities who have experienced violence need to be believed when they tell their stories. If you have experience violence, you are not alone.

You are not to blame.

No one deserves abuse.

You are a special person.

You deserve to be safe.


What can be done?
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Talk to others. Let people know that this is a problem we cannot overlook.

If a young friend experiences violence, be ready with information about where she can get help when she is ready. Develop a community resource list for you area. Helpful resources to include are:

The Kids Help Phone
1-800-668-6868, free anywhere in Canada

Planned Parenthood
Information about sexual and reproductive health topics
1-800-INFO-SEX (463-6739)

S.O.S. Femmes
1-800-387-8603, ligne telephonique d'urgence en francais

Distress and Crisis Lines

Youth and Family Counselling Services

School Counsellors

Child and Youth Centres or Women's Centres

Rape Crisis Centres

Police
911 for TTY and Voice in most of Ontario

Shelters or Transition Houses

Hospitals

Children's Aid Society

Stopping the violence against girls with disabilities involves the home, school and community. Everyone should work together to end the problems of violence and abuse in the lives of girls with disabilities. We need to speak out about the violence, increase awareness and work for change.

 

For Counsellors, Teachers and Service Providers
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Violence against women and girls with disabilities is a reality that we cannot ignore. Education is needed to develop a greater awareness about these issues.

In order to stop the violence we need to change social attitudes about women and disability, and to change the inequalities that exist. Negative attitudes toward women and disability can be harmful to a disabled girl's self-esteem. We can reinforce positive self-esteem by helping a girl with a disability to identify the things that make her feel good or what she likes about herself. People who have positive self-esteem are able to cope and manage problems in a different, and sometimes better way. Disabled girls who have high self-esteem may be less vulnerable to abuse.

Girls with disabilities need to know what to do to prevent violence and abuse from happening to them. They can learn how to form healthy relationships, enjoy healthy sexuality, and recognize different forms of violence.

Use this guide alone or with "You Deserve to Be Safe: An Education Video" to encourage discussion among students, teachers, health care and social service providers, police and caregivers. Please note that discussions about violence and abuse can often trigger strong emotions in people. We suggest that female counsellors be available at video screenings.


Sources

1. Information adapted from Violence Against Women and Children with Disabilities Myth List by J. Bacon and F. Odette, 1994

2. Information adapted from Strengthening the Links-Stopping the Violence by Leanne Cusitar, a publication of DAWN Toronto, 1994 and Stop the Abuse: a prevention handbook written by youth with disabilities, a publication of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres, 1994

3. Information taken from Violence Against Women with Disabilities, DAWN Toronto Fact Sheet


Order Form

To order copies of "You Deserve to Be Safe: An Education Video" and the "You Deserve to Be Safe: A Guide for Girls with Disabilities" follow this link.


Contact us

Disabled? Sexually Assaulted?
Need Help? Sexual Assault and Women With Disabilities

Read the brochure online

 

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This page was updated in May 23, 2002