In 2018, National Public Radio in the USA released their bombshell series about the sexual abuse of people with cognitive disabilities in that country. One sobering statistic – according to previously unpublished government statistics, people with cognitive disabilities in the USA are at least 7 times more likely to experience assault & abuse than the general public.
A story from the series centres around a woman who was kicked out of her home of 20 years when she reported abuse. This means she can no longer live with her husband of over a decade. (He had no part in her abuse, and was forced to continue to live with the people who did abuse his wife.) The series closes with hopeful reports on different sexual health initiatives around the USA aimed at building resilience within this community.
And perhaps the biggest takeaway? Our systems of care regularly demand compliance and obedience from adults with cognitive disabilities. People are rewarded for being agreeable and punished for standing up for themselves. Their concerns are often dismissed and / or disbelieved. This makes them very vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Encouraging people to advocate for themselves – encouraging them to refuse when they disagree with something (even if it is inconvenient to us) is one place where we can all have impact. Believing them and taking them seriously is another. Encouraging culture change within our care systems – pushing for a less directive stance towards folks receiving services – is another.
This series is worth checking out. Audio episodes and written transcripts are all available here.