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November 29, 2002

Researcher calls for discussion on abuse against the disabled

From: Edmonton Journal, Canada - 29 Nov 2002

Caregivers are often the culprits

Jodie Sinnema, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal

Friday, November 29, 2002

Too many people with disabilities will remain in abusive relationships if there is no discussion about how to reduce their risk of encountering domestic violence, says a government researcher and policy analyst.

"We haven't really talked about domestic violence and how it affects people who are disabled," said Sherri Tanchak, who works at the Premier's Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities. "People aren't aware of the extent of the problem and aren't sure what to do about it."

Studies suggest that 71 per cent of people living in institutions have been threatened with violence, often perpetrated by caregivers, family members or other disabled people.

"We're failing in our systems of support," Tanchak said during a two-day family violence conference at the Santa Maria Goretti Community Centre.

Deaf people can rarely access 24-hour hotlines to report sexual abuse. Those in wheelchairs can't run away from violent situations. The mentally disabled can't always communicate effectively.

Disabled women with children are afraid to report spousal abuse because their kids might be taken away.

If their caregiver is abusing them, they might not report it because they fear they will be left without help.

"If you report, it's a huge risk because you're jeopardizing your system of care," Tanchak said. "Their caregiver is their lifeline and the devil at the same time. ... That's pretty scary."

Tanchak said she was surprised to learn that mothers, who often are the advocates for their disabled children, are also sometimes the abusers. "It's a product of frustration," she said, describing it as severe caregiver burnout. "It's a product of exhaustion. It's a product of social isolation."
© Copyright 2002 Edmonton Journal