The government detailed, in early March, new measures to deal with the resurgence of sexual violence against women with disabilities. Difficulties in communicating, isolation, dependence on those around them… Women with disabilities are all the more vulnerable to this type of violence.
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They would also be more victims than the able-bodied, according to a report by the DREES which establishes the statistics of the health and social ministries. Among the people concerned, 1.9% declare having suffered sexual violence during the two years preceding the survey, compared to 0.8% of people without disabilities.
A first series of proposed solutions
Among the first responses provided by the executive, the creation of appropriate reporting tools given to people with disabilities as soon as they enter a medico-social institution or easier access to gynecological care. Objective, to better identify sexual violence on this part of the female population, according to the ministry responsible for gender equality.
The Minister for People with Disabilities, Geneviève Darrieussecq, also aspires to “training police and gendarmes, in National Education and in the medico-social sector to detect weak signals”, to collect testimonies from people unable to express.
It must be said that 16% of disabled women report having been victims of rape, according to the results of another study conducted by Ifop for the Association for the social and professional integration of disabled people (LADAPT), published in November 2022. Women with a mental disability are 33% to have been raped, compared to 9% for all women. However, the figures on the subject are not necessarily reliable, in particular because sexual violence is poorly detected, according to associations and health professionals.
On the side of the Association of Autistic Women (AFFA), it is clear that a mental, psychic or cognitive handicap considerably increases the risk of sexual violence. President Marie Rabatel denounces a general “denial” of the violence suffered. “The aggressor is driven by a desire for domination and precisely takes advantage of their vulnerability, increased by the disability,” she explains. According to the AFFA, 88% of women with autism have been victims.
Autistic people particularly vulnerable
The vulnerability of people with autism is mainly due to the fact that they have difficulty decoding the intentions of others. A character trait that represents a “danger” for the women concerned. “If we offer them to go up for a drink at 3 a.m., they don’t understand the implication,” says Marie Rabatel.
She also adds that in her daily life, an autistic woman is “used to others touching her body without her consent, to dress her, for treatments, and sometimes decide for her”. The closed-door atmosphere within medico-social institutions encourages sexual violence insofar as sexual predators know that they will find easy prey there because they are vulnerable.
Symptoms that go more unnoticed in women with disabilities
Behavioral disorders and the phenomenon of dissociation are the main consequences of sexual violence. Symptoms that often leave the victim as “anesthetized, disconnected, amorphous”… So many signs that have a good chance of going unnoticed in an autistic person.
For Muriel Salmona, psychiatrist specializing in sexual violence, “these symptoms will be attributed to the disability”. And to add: “Or we will say that the person is telling nonsense. The reality is however dramatic according to the specialist: violence increases disability and the risk of exclusion, with a strong impact on the physical and mental health of the victim. Victims poorly identified, but also whose reception is not always suitable within police stations and other gendarmerie posts.
Discrimination at the time of care denounced
“The deaf, for example, are asked to find a sign language interpreter to take their complaint. Some were even asked to mime their rape,” says Anne-Sarah Kertudo, founder of Droit Pluriel, an association that provides legal support to people with disabilities.
Among the other excesses she spotted on the ground, the often inappropriate reaction of certain police officers. “We call the police station and the policeman answers you: “Madam, we are not going to interview the victim, she is disabled!” “, laments Faustine Lalle, legal director of Droit Pluriel. Associations and professionals demand that the police be trained in disability and provided with appropriate communication tools.
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