Scholarly article on topic 'Sexual Abuse of Teenagers with Intelletual Disability: An Examination of South African Literature'

Sexual Abuse of Teenagers with Intelletual Disability: An Examination of South African Literature Academic research paper on "Law"

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Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Nareadi Phasha

Abstract Problem Statement: As the literature continues to alert us to the increasing rates of sexual abuse among children in South Africa, the question arises as to how much is known about abuse of the most marginalized members of society, namely teenagers with intellectual disabilities. International literature suggests that individuals with intellectual disabilities are at increased risk of sexual assault, and more so than their non-disabled counterparts. A paucity of South African-based research in this area directed the focus of my paper. Purpose of Study: My intentions are twofold: to uncover what is known about the sexual abuse of teenagers with intellectual disability and to encourage debate and research in this area. Methods : Information was sourced from international and South African-based papers reported in English and published in ISI, IBSS and/or DOE-accredited journals. The papers were obtained by means of a library search at one of the largest university in South Africa, using the following terms: disability, intellectual/mental challenges, sexual abuse/maltreatment/violation and gender-based violence. Findings : A total of seven [7] studies were found, of which two were focused on people with physical disability. The studies sensitized the public to the existence of sexual abuse and related aspects. More studies are needed in this regard. Conclusions: A paucity of research in this area reflects society's failure to acknowledge the existence of the problem in society as a whole, therefore we cannot claim to understand the nature or the pattern of this form of abuse. There is a serious need to advance research in this area so as to avoid heavy reliance on research conducted in non-South African contexts.

Academic research paper on topic "Sexual Abuse of Teenagers with Intelletual Disability: An Examination of South African Literature"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 69 (2012) 1693 - 1699

International Conference on Education and Educational Psychology (ICEEPSY 2012)

Sexual Abuse Of Teenagers With Intelletual Disability: An Examination Of South African

Literature

Nareadi Phasha*

_College of Education, University of South Africa, P.O. Box 392, Pretoria, 0003 South Africa_

Abstract

Problem Statement: As the literature continues to alert us to the increasing rates of sexual abuse among children in South Africa, the question arises as to how much is known about abuse of the most marginalized members of society, namely teenagers with intellectual disabilities. International literature suggests that individuals with intellectual disabilities are at increased risk of sexual assault, and more so than their non-disabled counterparts. A paucity of South African-based research in this area directed the focus of my paper.

Purpose of Study: My intentions are twofold: to uncover what is known about the sexual abuse of teenagers with intellectual disability and to encourage debate and research in this area.

Methods: Information was sourced from international and South African-based papers reported in English and published in ISI, IBSS and/or DOE-accredited journals. The papers were obtained by means of a library search at one of the largest university in South Africa, using the following terms: disability, intellectual/mental challenges, sexual abuse/maltreatment/violation and gender-based violence.

Findings: A total of seven [7] studies were found, of which two were focused on people with physical disability. The studies sensitized the public to the existence of sexual abuse and related aspects. More studies are needed in this regard.

Conclusions: A paucity of research in this area reflects society's failure to acknowledge the existence of the problem in society as a whole, therefore we cannot claim to understand the nature or the pattern of this form of abuse. There is a serious need to advance research in this area so as to avoid heavy reliance on research conducted in non-South African contexts.

© 2012TheAuthors.Publishedby Elsevier Ltd.

Selection andpeer-reviewunder responsibilityof Dr.ZaferBekirogullariofCognitive - Counselling, Research&Conference Services C-crcs.

* Nareadi Phasha: Tel.: 27 (0) 12 429 8748; fax: E-mail address: phashnt@unisa.ac.za

1877-0428 © 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Dr. Zafer Bekirogullari of Cognitive - Counselling, Research & Conference

Services C-crcs.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.12.116

Keywords: sexual abuse; teenagers with intellectual disability; literature; South Africa

Introduction

Child sexual abuse is an old phenomenon. As asserted by Hlungwani (1999), there has never been a time when children have not been abused. However, in many cultures disclosure or discussion of the subject has been largely tabooed, and it was only in the late 1980s that South African research on the subject began to accumulate. Whether because some taboos were slowly being challenged, or social changes were leading to changes in behaviour amongst certain groups, organizations began to witness an increase in the number of reported incidents of such abuse. Whatever the case, and both these factors might have contributed, research added up in the years following the country's ratification of the United Nations' Conventions on the Rights of the Child in 1990, and the subsequent adoption of the Constitution and legislation that reflected the country's commitment towards the protection of its children. To date, sexual abuse research in South Africa can be said to have covered a wide spectrum of issues in comparison to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Lalor, 2004). However, this plethora of research had paid little attention to issues of sexual abuse among individuals with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual challenges. This explains the focus of this paper and its question, namely "Where we are in terms of understanding sexual abuse of teenagers with intellectual disability?"

For the sake of this paper, the term 'intellectual disability' shall refer to individuals whose intellectual functioning is below the range considered "normal" or "average" for a human being. The condition could be congenital or acquired, and authors and practitioners use various names to refer to it: mental retardation, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, mental disorder and so on. The condition could be mild, moderate, severe or profound. My choice to focus on this group was influenced by my professional experience as a researcher and specialist in the field of Inclusive Education, a subject concerned with maximizing educational access and success for ALL, irrespective of the learners' differences. Disability is one of the issues central to the discussions in Inclusive Education. Once more, sexual abuse is one social problem that undermines the education of children on the level equal to his or her non-abused counterparts.

Matters pertaining to the abuse of individuals with intellectual disability merit priority if we are serious about recognizing universal human rights. Since international conventions require nations to treat and provide services to all in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner, the question is thus "How would we achieve that if we lack an understanding of some members of the population?" The rights/entitlements of all children and teenagers are clearly stated in the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the child, which South Africa ratified in 1990. The rights for individuals with disabilities are further emphasized in the following: the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975), the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993), the Principles for the Protection of Persons with mental illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care (1991) and the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1982). South Africa's commitment to the international legislation is clarified in the Act 108 of the Constitution (RSA, 1996), which guarantees people with disabilities the right to non-discrimination and access to basic services. They are further clarifies by the Integrated National Disability Strategy (INDS, 1997), which clearly stated that disability should not be discriminated against in any efforts or services, and this includes research.

To advance the discussion for this paper, I deemed it appropriate to discuss the international literature on sexual abuse of children with intellectual disability, and then move on that published on South Africa. I used only papers reported in English and published in journals accredited by ISI, IBSS and/or the Department of Education (DoE) in South Africa. The papers were obtained by means of a library search at the largest university in South Africa, using the following terms: disability, intellectual/developmental/mental challenges, sexual abuse/maltreatment/violation and gender-based violence. In conclusion, I will present a brief discussion alongside

recommendations on the basis of the international literature and as a strategy to suggest direction for further research.

Literature internationally

Internationally, sexual abuse research covering individuals with intellectual disability has been conducted for some time, particularly in countries such as the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada. Such literature suggests that individuals with intellectual disabilities face increased risks of sexual assault compared to their non-disabled counterparts and are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted (Fury, 1994; Sobsey, 2002; Howard-Barr, Rienzo, Morgan-Pigg & James, 2005). An Australian study by Keilty and Connely (2001) suggests that 50% of women with disability had experienced sexual abuse by the time they reach adulthood, whilst a study conducted in the USA by Owen and Griffiths (2009) reports that 30-68% of girls and 16-3% of boys with intellectual disability would experience sexual abuse before they reached the age of 18. UNICEF (2009) cautioned that developing countries have higher rates of sexual abuse affecting people with intellectual disability and highlighted that the annual rates of sexual crimes committed against the group in question is 1.7 times greater than those committed against their non-disabled counterparts.

Their exclusion from campaigns that target sexual and reproductive health issues (Musakanya, 2003), combined with the prevailing misperceptions against them, render them vulnerable to rape. They are incorrectly assumed to be promiscuous, naturally seductive and/or "oversexed" (Wilde, 1997; Morrissey, Mooney, Hogue, Lindsay & Taylor, 2007; Basson, 2010). They are also considered to be sexually inactive, unlikely to use drugs or alcohol, at less risk of violence or rape than their non-disabled peers (Groce, 2004), and as childlike (Howe, 2000). Some understandings are linked to the general limitations of disability itself, but for learners with intellectual disability the perceptions are that they are unable to judge the motives of others (Grieve, McLaren & Lindsay, 2006), to assess violent situations, defend themselves, or report violence (Bazzo, Nota, Soresi, Ferraria & Minnes, 2006). Other factors associated with their increased risk of suffering sexual abuse include: (a) lack of understanding of abuse; (b) the extreme pressure to acquiesce out of fear; (c) a need for the abuser's acceptance or having a dependent relationship with the abuser (Reynolds, 2004); (d) communication skills deficits (Davis, 2002); and (e) a belief by perpetrators that this population will not be considered as reliable witnesses on their own behalf (Wilde, 1997).

The literature further demonstrated that despite their vulnerability to sexual violence, the state of care and support services for individuals with intellectual disability remain a serious concern. Wilde (1997) noted that health centres frequently deny them adequate or factual information about sexual and reproductive issues. They are not provided with a way to work through or talk about their traumatic experiences in therapeutic settings, as therapists are often not trained in non-verbal mind-body healing modalities that do not require an intellectual processing component of the therapy (Reynolds, 2004). The justice system also fails them because it does not always recognize their capabilities as reliable witness of their own abuse, especially in case of individuals with poor communication skills and reduced capacity to recall and articulate incidents. Moreover, they may not have the capacity to fight for their legal rights (Scriner, 2003). School programmes offer them less instruction about sexuality matters (The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2003) as teachers often feel unprepared to handle such issues among individuals with intellectual disabilities (Howard-Barr et al., 2005). Campaigns about sexual and reproductive issues do not consider people with intellectual disability as a target group (Musakanya, 2003), and risk reduction programmes do not reach them (Wilde, 1997).

South African literature

Unlike the literature in non-South African settings, which has advanced quite reasonably on the issues of sexual abuse among individuals with disabilities, here the gap still needs to be filled. A groundbreaking study in this field revealed the existence of gender-based violence amongst people with physical, hearing and visual disability (Naidu, Haffejee, Vetten & Hargreaves, 2005). It was a project for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, in Johannesburg, and its purposes were twofold: (a) to expose the forms of violence experienced by

women with disabilities; and (b) to investigate their access to the justice system. As the study focused on gender-based violence, the attention was on women (older) experiencing abuse by men. This excludes male victims and, more importantly, teenagers. The study involved women with disabilities and interviews with staff of six NGO's and four units of the police service. The women reported physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse by their spouses. With regard to services, it was found that they were architecturally inaccessible for people with physical and visual impairments. There were no interpreters for sign language, which explains why they had not seen people with hearing difficulties.

Motalingoane-Khau's (2006) study was carried out in Lesotho as a project of the African Regional Sexuality resource centre, in collaboration with the Health Systems Trust of South Africa and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It presented the experiences of three youths with physical disabilities and their construction of sexual identities. The findings revealed that youth with disabilities often experience rejection and verbal victimization especially when it comes to issues of sexualities. For example, they received insensitive messages (boys are referred to as "girls", "not man enough", unable to bear children). In addition, the teachers and society do not expect them to know, say or understand sexuality issues (they tended to be dismissed when asking sex-related matters). Such reactions created in them impressions that sexuality was not meant for disabled people. Although this paper reveals only the experiences of a small sample of youth with physical disabilities, it sheds light on how they are sidelined in the area of sexuality.

Studies by Dickman and Roux (2005) and Dickman, Roux, Mansons, Doughlas and Shabalala (2006) focused on individuals with intellectual disability. Both were conducted in Cape Town, at a mental health facility. The first was concerned about the speed and the outcomes of sexual abuse cases involving people with intellectual disability and commented on the nature of cases being prosecuted. Authors reviewed the files of 94 complainants obtained from the mental health facility, police services and the court. The complainants were in the age range of six to 40. About 38 of these complaints involved children under the age of 16 (age of consent in South Africa at the time of the study). All the cases involved people classified as mental retardation [DSM-IV] - 46 mild, 28 moderate and 26 were either severely or profoundly retarded. About 89% of the cases were perpetrated by people known to the victimized person, such as family friends, neighbours and people having a connection with family of the victim. Close family members included brothers, fathers (biological and stepfathers), and caregivers at day facilities. The findings reveal that arrest was made within a week or two, and the conviction happened within two years following the reporting of the incident. In another study, Dickman, Roux, Mansons, Doughlas and Shabalala (2006) reported that the Sexual Assault Victim Empowerment (SAVE) of the Cape Mental Health assisted a total of 255 complainants of sexual assault with intellectual disability between years 1990 and 2004. Of the number, 94% were women and the average age of the complainants was 19 years, with the age range from six to 60. About 40% were under the age of 16 and 42% fell in the DSM-IV revised category of mild intellectual disability. Some 58% had moderate and severe intellectual disability.

Calitz (2011) has highlighted the psycho-legal challenges facing the mentally retarded rape victims in South Africa as follows: (a) there is a need for the law and the mental health professionals to agree on the definition to use for people with intellectual challenges; (b) the intellectual level of an individual should be assessed because the condition is not homogenous and individuals with different severities of the condition will have different capabilities in providing testimony; and (c) they may become distressed, confused and withdrawn and this may impact on the speech and thus come to be perceived as unreliable witnesses. Phasha's (2009) study on the responses to situations of sexual abuse involving teenagers with intellectual disability noted negative ones on the part of families, notably concealment of the report due in part to misconceptions about intellectual disability in some communities. The belief is that disability is caused by an excess of "dirty blood" in the person's brain, and it can be healed if that person loses a lot of blood through childbirth. The hope is therefore that if the sexual abuse could result in pregnancy and the victimised teenager were to lose blood through childbirth it would thus become healed of intellectual disability. Furthermore, the study noted a preference for handling the reported incident as "a family affair", whereby the victim would undergo a cleansing ritual and/or have the perpetrator pay for the offense s/he has committed. Myaka's (2012) study conducted in KwaZulu-Natal revealed that teenagers with intellectual disability are increasingly subjected to sexual abuse due to beliefs that they do not feel any pain and have unusual powers,

which, if extracted sexually could bring about fortune and power to the perpetrator. To some individuals, sexual abuse of teenagers with intellectual disability was an act of pity whilst others found them sexually attractive. Phasha and Nyokangi (2012) have exposed various forms of sexual violence in schools catering for such individuals through practices such as: peer pressure, limited supervision at school and other places linked to the schools, and a tendency for arranging relationship for them. Boys come to think that they can demand sex from girls at any time.

Discussion

Limited as it is, the literature covering sexual abuse involving teenagers with intellectual disability within the South African context suggests the existence of the problem amongst the group in question. Interestingly, individuals in all categories of intellectual disability, namely, mild, moderate, severe and profound do fall victims. Similar to their non-disabled counterparts, they may become sexually victimised as young as six years. However, it should be noted that the studies were not particularly focused on the prevalence of the problem. In addition, they dealt only with cases that were referred to the mental health facility in the Cape. The situation might prove otherwise in instances where victimized individuals are not linked to a mental facility and the studies are carried out at provinces other than the Cape. This calls for additional efforts to understand how widespread the problem is in other provinces, as this is imperative for understanding the extent, patterns and nature of the problem in the entire population of intellectual disability in South Africa, especially teenagers. Such information will also shed light on whether the experiences of sexual abuse amongst individuals with intellectual disability are the same as those of their non-disabled counterparts.

Research on sexual abuse of teenagers with intellectual disability should go beyond analyzing the records of complaints referred to a mental facility, and include various sources. Medical records could provide information about incidences, who presented to health care facilities with injuries, sexual related diseases and pregnancy. By virtue of their knowledge about issues of disability, sexual abuse and its manifestations, records obtained from social welfare agencies could be useful in this regard. In areas in which formal services are not available or easily accessible, community-based organizations could be useful in providing information. It proved in one of the studies I carried out in an informal settlement that women tend to organize themselves and help each other on issues that affect them and the children. In such instances they can provide knowledge about the seriousness of sexual abuse involving teenagers with intellectual disability. Although Phasha (2009) has noted that some family members tend to turn a blind eye to incidents of sexual abuse involving members of their own, their perspectives can be valuable in understanding the problem in the community. The views of individuals with intellectual disability should also be included. Some people with intellectual disabilities have well-developed language skills and therefore could relate their experiences well without assistance. The study conducted by Phasha and Nyokangi (2012) demonstrates that they can express their views clearly without difficulty, if given opportunities to do so. Moreover, such a strategy could be empowering as it gives them a platform to speak on their own behalf and to make impact on issues that directly affect them.

Conclusion

From these studies it is clear that people with disabilities experience violence in their lives. Teenagers with an intellectual disability are not immune to sexual abuse and therefore paucity of research in this area reflects our failure to acknowledge the existence of this problem. We cannot claim to understand the nature or pattern of this form of abuse if we deny its existence in the general population. There is a need to advance research in this area so as to avoid heavy and/or total reliance on the literature conducted in other countries, which may be differ from South Africa in terms of the social, economic, cultural and political histories. This is not to suggest that nothing can be drawn from such findings. Indeed, South Africa can draw useful analysis and lessons from those countries (Naidu et al., 2005). However, bearing in mind the seriousness of sexual violence and abuse in the country, reflected in its being nicknamed "the hub" of sexual violence (Calitz, 2011), the country should take a proactive role in finding solutions of its own problems. One South African scholar, Ntuli (2002) once remarked, "Africa is not Europe or America, and therefore it has to find its own ways to sort its problems, than to depend on other countries to solve her own problems". Moreover, some authors cautioned that applying to non-Western contexts knowledge produced by

means of sciences that did not include the paradigms of its people would not adequately address the problems of the locals.

I conclude by cautioning the reader that information reported in this study was based only on the work which the author was able to access through the library search using only ISI, IBSS and DoE-accredited journals. There might be other relevant studies published in the form of book chapters, reports and monographs in sources other than the ones consulted. Such studies might contain information useful in providing a different understanding of the problem posed by this study.

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