The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
There was a recent report in The Lancet stating that 1 in 4 disabled children are the victims of abuse. This report was based on 20 years of data from 17 studies (from 1990 to 2010) and involving more than 18000 children.
The authors of the report sadly added that the sitution is possibly even worse than their data shows.
“The results of this review prove that children with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to violence, and their needs have been neglected for far too long,” said Etienne Krug, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability.
What makes our children more likely victims?
There are several reasons including (but not limited to); society’s assumption that no one would abuse a disabled child, or even worse, that it won’t affect a disabled child as much; disabled children are often more dependent on carers or are in residential care; or there can be a presumption that non-verbal children cannot tell someone if they are abused.
Does the system protect disabled children if abuse is alleged?
Sadly, the answer is no.
As our children are often considered not to be “credible witnesses”, i.e. although they may be interviewed in the investigation, it is often presumed that any defence lawyer will not be able to cross examine the child, therefore no criminal charges are brought as it will be difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
The staff within disabled children service, education and any other LA dept have a lesser burden of proof to protect our children, they only have to show a “balance of probability” (ie it is probable that the abuse took place). However, sadly, if the abuser is employed by the LA, then they also have to look at the cost of an employment tribunal. Sadly, there are occasions when the LA put the risk of a possible tribunal above the risk to the child.
There are advocacy services but not very well publicised and so often, parents only find out about these services after the case is closed. Any parent dealing with abuse of their child (if they are not the perpetrator), are also dealing with lots of emotions and often exhaustion so finding out about what other help is available (when you’re told the system works so let it takes its course) is not something even considered. This is a classic case of “they don’t know what they don’t know”.
So, what is the answer? How do we protect disabled children, giving them access to a fair system which protects them and not the perpetrator? These are some of our most vulnerable children in society so why are we not giving them the protection they need and deserve? Why do we allow this abuse to happen without putting in the necessary steps to ensure that when it is reported, the children are protected?
Answers on a postcard please.