Handle with care

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 immeddisabilityiate 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 Review21(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

http://www.ncdsv.org/images/Vera_Sexual-abuse-of-children-with-disabilities-national-snapshot_3-2013.pdf 1-12





4 Replies to “Handle with care”

  1. Hey Melisa
    Its really sad to read about disabled children are more likely to be abused than children without disabilities.
    I noticed some minor grammer errors. Otherwise, your points were stated clearly.
    Thank you


  2. HI Melisa,

    The topic of rape really saddens me and with your post I came to a realization. We approach these children and we tell them that we are there to help and our help involves physical touch but we never really know how they may perceive it because even with the perpetrator being a caregiver, they came to “help”. The word help may never be a good word for them again. Thank you for this piece and your views. Good use of media.Be aware of some grammatical mistakes.


  3. Hi Melisa

    This topic is particularly sensitive and very heartbreaking. It saddens me to think that some individuals out there abuse their position and relationship with an individual to attend to their own selfish needs. Knowingly doing this is in my opinion an act of a coward as they know the individual is vulnerable and unable to fight back. In such a situation, as it is already particularly sensitive, remain yourself and treat the patient as you would any other. I can only imagine that the patient also feels some form of disgust and embarrassment and does not want to be reminded of the incident. It is therefore important to be yourself, treat them with respect and dignity but also have the necessary and appropriate amount of sympathy. Build a relationship that is based on trust and combine it with the therapeutic techniques.

    In terms of your writing I commend you for opening up about such a difficult situation and for putting it into words that makes the reader feel part of story. I would however suggest that you look at your last in text reference as it is not according to the APA guidelines. Also try to incorporate a few hyperlinks, maybe to your in text references, to utilize the site and technology more efficiently.

    Otherwise, well done.


  4. Hi Melisa. Thanks for the post and for your honest reflection. In addition to the comments already provided I would also have liked for you to end with a return to the scenario you began with. You talk about how you would work differently with similar patients in the future, but how did you engage with this patient? How did she respond? Were you successful in being able to connect with her? These posts are about more than simply saying that you learned something; we want to see how the thing you learned was useful as a tool for changing how you think or how you practice.


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