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ASPartOfMe
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07 May 2021, 6:26 am

Disability and domestic abuse: 'No-one knows what is happening behind those walls'

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As cases of domestic abuse rise during lockdown, people are forced to spend more time with their abusers. As Sara Cincurova explores, disabled victims can face particular challenges.

"When you are disabled and live with your abuser, you are scared to talk," says Ebere, a disabled survivor who was abused for years. "Particularly if you are trapped with him at home, or reliant on his money or care."

Ebere, not her real name, has faced abuse throughout her life.

Born in Nigeria, she contracted polio as a baby and became a wheelchair-user. Her parents considered her disabilities a "curse" and physically and mentally abused her.

Lauren Avery, from Minority Rights Group International, which protects the rights of minorities says disabled women who have another intersecting identity, such as being a refugee, can face double discrimination.

"Firstly, they face a higher likelihood of experiencing violence. Secondly, they face barriers in reporting violence and accessing services."

Avery says reports from around the world show violence against disabled women has intensified during lockdown.

Although no figures have yet been compiled, Women's Aid said, pre-pandemic, disabled women were three times more likely to experience domestic abuse and more likely to experience multiple forms of abuse in their lifetime, compared to non-disabled women.



Emma Dalmayne, an autistic woman from London, was 17 years old when she fled domestic abuse with her eight-month-old baby.

"I had been subjected to severe physical abuse, but I was also mentally abused. I wasn't allowed to look out of the window or to use a phone. But I didn't realise this was violence," she says.

"Many autistic people might not realise that you don't have to be hit to be abused."
Emma too had to carefully consider how to escape.

"The night before I left, I was subjected to one of the worst beatings. I had made 'too much noise' while making my son a bottle in the kitchen and was kicked around on the floor like a football."

The next morning, Emma went to the Post Office to collect her benefits - the only place she was allowed to go alone. "I hid a spare bottle and two nappies in the buggy, and left together with my son."

On her way, she called a friend, who in turn called the police. Officers met them on the high street.

"I showed them my injuries, the bruising on my back and chest, and they took us to the local housing department," Emma says.

When she arrived at the refuge, she sobbed with relief and fear. But she says her autism made the situation confusing and she would have liked more support and "clear instructions" about what to do next.

"The police should accompany you to the refuge, especially if you have difficulty navigating public transport," she says. "Things should also be made more clear by refuge staff, such as directions to amenities in your new area."

Emma agrees with Avery that support cannot be a one-size approach, especially if disability is involved.

During her violent relationship she was starved and her stomach had shrunk so she was unable to eat at the refuge. "But no-one asked me about it, and I was unable to communicate," she says.

For Emma, offering up information without first being asked, is something she struggles with. As a result, she didn't receive any therapy or treatment.

"Don't assume that just because someone is verbal, they can communicate. When people look at me, they think 'she'll be fine, she can talk, she can explain what happened'. But I couldn't."

She says support workers should be trained to support disabled people.

"We might need help with budgeting and we should also see a dietician and a doctor when we are first brought in.

"We need to be put in a safe, quiet room, and be protected from further trauma, noise, and overwhelm," she says.

Over-stimulation can lead to some autistic people experiencing meltdowns or shutting down.

When she left the refuge, Emma started to advocate for women who had faced domestic violence. She also became CEO of Autistic Inclusive Meets, an organisation focused on creating a community for autistic people.

"This is a matter dear to my heart. As an autistic person, it is so easy to get drawn into a situation where you blame yourself for the abuse. Providing help to disabled people is so important. Love shouldn't hurt."

Emma's tips for escaping abuse
* Keep a paper list of phone numbers of people you want to keep in contact with
* Pick up any prescriptions or medication before leaving as you will be moved out of area.
* Don't tell anyone your plans, they may unintentionally slip up
* If you call the police to help you leave, it may save time to head to the police station or meet them nearby
* Wear sensible shoes
* Take one treasured toy for your child - you will not be able to carry much - and any favourite photos - they may be destroyed once you leave


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“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


Juliette
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07 May 2021, 4:11 pm

Thanks for sharing, ASPartOfMe.



Danusaurus
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07 May 2021, 4:14 pm

Nice post!



CockneyRebel
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07 May 2021, 11:44 pm

Thank you for posting this.


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longshot
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13 May 2021, 7:06 pm

I would like to sincerely thank you ASPartOfMe; as, often I feel that many people on the spectrum wind up becoming tormented and tortured, which might be an inaccurate way of describing such, I think abuse can sometimes be felt like that.Anyways, thanks sir.


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IsabellaLinton
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13 May 2021, 7:21 pm

Thank you for posting. My only constructive criticism of the article is that's heteronormative like most domestic abuse information. It's not always man against woman. Men abuse male partners, women abuse female partners, and women can abuse men. Domestic abuse rarely tells men how to escape violent or psychologically abusive women / partners, and I feel like that is a disempowering message.

There's also a lot of rhetoric about the police being our saviours. In my case when I had endured horrors I can't even describe here, the police saw me as a) hysterical or b) flat affect and not believable. They sent me back to my abusers several times where I faced extortion, sexual assault, torture, threats to my child, and attempted murder. The victims' help line that was supposed to record my messages didn't record a very significant conversation / plea for help because it was the weekend, and apparently they don't record calls on weekends because they're short-staffed. The police were no help to me when I appealed on my own. It wasn't until two others (non-autistic) intervened on my behalf and had police raid the building. Suddenly I was taken seriously, and the two others were considered heroes.

There's also a bias in domestic abuse information which assumes that the woman is financially dependent on the man. It's rather sexist to make that assumption because there are many situations where a woman owns the home or is more financially secure. If she owns the home she can't "leave" like advocates urge. The man (or female partner) needs to be evicted or arrested. This is where autistic victims are at risk because other people don't take our emotions seriously. We don't present like NT victims, so we are often seen as liars.

Rant over.



ASPartOfMe
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14 May 2021, 9:06 am

I am happy that the article was helpful for people. The journalist who wrote this and the victims who came forward deserve most of the thanks. Emma deserves special thanks for her tips. Her tips made this article stand above others.


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“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman