In my first block this year I have encountered a unique situation. It was a paeds block with which I am familiar with. As I went through my client’s folder (presenting with quadriplegia), I came across a letter from a support group stating that her move to this school was quite desperate due to a shocking incident that occurred in her life. She was raped by an educator at her previous school.
I was filled with deep sympathy for this girl but also disgust and anger towards this incident. How could someone even think of doing something so cruel to a helpless child, let alone a disabled child. Is it maybe because perpetrators feel more powerful? According to (Smith & Harrell, 2013), there is a greater chance of children with disabilities to be sexually abused than those without it. Many perpetrators are known to the children they victimize. People, especially perpetrators, who target children with disabilities are often linked to them through the disability, as these children have a greater dependence on others for personal care activities.
My immediate concern was how I should react towards her. Should I be EXTRA gentle and careful with what I do and around her and choose my words wisely when speaking to her? At this point it was a difficult situation as physiotherapy is a very “hands-on” profession.
Children with disabilities are deprived of the right to say no, for example what they should eat or wear as they are dependent on others to make the decisions. They are therefore unequipped to say no when someone is trying to hurt them. These children are not educated about their bodies and the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. Without these vital life lessons, they are unable to described what has been done to them when they are abused (Smith & Harrell, 2013). “Children with disabilities are systematically denied basic information about sexual health and relationships. This practice can be traced to a desire to shield children with disabilities from the realities of life as well as a belief that people with disabilities are asexual,” (Smith & Harrell, 2013).
According to (Allnock & Hynes, 2012), professionals in disability organizations may lack training or education on the topic of sexual abuse and, therefore, miss indications of abuse of their clients. From what I have experienced through this situation, I have come to the conclusion that there must be continuity in their therapy sessions. This must be done in such a way as to build trust and security. Negative reactions from my side especially must be curbed. It is my opinion that people and organizations charged with supporting children with disabilities and those addressing sexual abuse must strengthen their commitment and action to stop this epidemic and to assist the children who have been affected by it.
Allnock, D., Hynes, P. (2012). In Demand: Therapeutic Services for Children and Young People Who Have Experienced Sexual Abuse. Child Abuse Review, 21(5), 318-334. Retrieved on September 30, 2016 from https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/therapeutic-services-sexually-abused-children-evidence-review.pdf
Smith, N., & Harrell, S. (2013). Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot. Retrieved on September 30, 2016 from