Women with intellectual disabilities: Life after violence
A new initiative of Inclusion Europe
Women with disabilities are at a significant risk of severe forms of violence. They experience violence at significantly higher rates, more frequently, for longer, in more ways, and by more perpetrators; they have considerably fewer pathways to safety, and are less likely to report experiences of violence. However, programs and services to help these victims of violence to overcome their traumatic experiences either do not exist or are extremely limited.
Since many women with intellectual disabilities are still living in long-stay residential institutions across the European Union Member States, hundreds of thousands of European women are at a very high risk of different forms of violence in such places. Some of these forms of violence are common to all women, while some are specific for the institutional settings they live in. For example, women in institutions are often systematically deprived of their right to make a family and become mothers, for example by being exposed to involuntary contraception or sterilisation.
There has been plenty of research regarding the unfavourable effects of institutionalisaiton on individuals and the necessity of deinistitutionalisation. But, the discourse seems to stop once women with intellectual disabilities live in the community. It seems as if it is considered to be enough just to relocate people from institutions or institution-like settings in which they were subject to different forms of violence for long periods of time, into the community. However, for many of them, this is only where another struggle starts.
In order to drive global and European policies for full realisation of human rights of women with intellectual disabilities to live in the community on an equal basis with others, a more focused research has been started now by Inclusion Europe. Funded by the Open Society Foundation, this research will enable findings which will then be fed into and drive policies in Europe and beyond. In order to properly support women who have once been victims of violence in institutional settings, it is necessary to understand the specific forms of violence they were subject to, and the specific need for support for the full realisation of their rights once they live included in the community. Accepting that deinstitutionalisaiton is not only about buildings, but about services, it is necessary to enable them to profit from their freedom fully and this is what the present project is intending to achieve.
In the first phases, this research will be carried out in the Netherlands which has an extensive legal and policy framework related to people with disabilities that clearly establishes an approach intended to foster active, independent living for this population, and to ensure its inclusion in the social fabric of the country. However, the experience of this group of people often does not live up to the promise of these policies. The specific situation of people with intellectual disabilities needs to be a focus for continued Government concern. People with intellectual disabilities continue to be placed in institutional care facilities, and the number of such placements is actually increasing, albeit more slowly than previously. In addition, given that the Netherlands only ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in January 2016, it will be important to explore if this will be of any influence to the development of policies for persons with intellectual disabilities.
The immediate outcome of this research will be an analysis of the causes and consequences of violence in this specific situation, giving voice to these women, telling their stories and giving practical recommendations which will hopefully map out the road for policy makers to improve their situation. Inclusion Europe will continue to report about the progress of this project in its media and also establish a website for the project at www.life-after-violence.eu.