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Building A Safety-Net For Yourself

Mary Oschwald Portland State University, Portland Oregon Max Barrows Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Compelling reasons why people with disabilities do not disclose or report abuse Mary Oschwald will described the Safer and Stronger Program Asking for Support - Sometimes friends and family members want to be supportive, but they’re not sure what to say or do. Here’s a list of ways friends and family can be supportive. Self Care - It’s important that you take care of yourself when healing from—or living through—abusive situations. Here are some ideas that may be useful to you. Peer-To-Peer Guide:

 to know what abuse is  to know what to say and what to do when you
hear about abusive situations.

Barriers To Reporting Abuse

 Some do not recognize their experience as abuse  The abuser may be a family member, staff person or “friend” who provides essential care.  Abusers often damage, destroy, or take away equipment that the person would need in order to escape or report.  There is, unfortunately, a great deal of shame when people experience abuse. This can make it difficult to ask for help.  Fear of being institutionalized  Fear of having children taken away.  People with disabilities often fear they will not be believed  Many people with disabilities are reluctant to contact agencies because of past bad experiences.  People who have mobility-related disabilities may not have access to transportation options to get away from the abuser.  People with disabilities may lack options for pet care if they leave their home.  People often fear mandatory reporting which may put them at risk for escalated violence.

Legal, Social & Cultural Barriers

 There is an assumption that people with disabilities are nonsexual or less sexual than others. (This, of course, is not true.)
 Due to discriminatory attitudes, people with disabilities often have fewer job opportunities, which can make self-sufficiency difficult if they need to leave their home or “start over.”  Survivors with disabilities may have had bad experiences with police officers, doctors, nurses, etc., and may be reluctant to seek help.  Decreases in Social Security benefits or health insurance may influence a person’s decision to divorce an abusive partner.  If the person is an immigrant, they may be dependent on the abusive spouse for citizenship status or immigration status.  Men with disabilities are less likely to report abuse based on cultural norms of masculinity that create additional stigma  People are reluctant to ask for help when they know they will be perceived and treated like children.  There is a lack of routine screening for violence in the lives of people with disabilities.

The Safer and Stronger Program It uses a computer program to interview people with disabilities about the sensitive topic of abuse. The program asks the questions aloud. It also teaches the person about staying safe. Many people who have used the program volunteered that it was the first time they had been asked about abuse. We are not suggesting that this computer based program should replace people as interviewers and advocates. The Safer and Stronger Program is an additional resource option for people to use to get information and safety planning strategies. The Safer and Stronger Program is confidential. This is an important option for people with disabilities who are reluctant to disclose because they fear mandatory abuse-reporting laws. The benefits of this program are people have a tool to identify violence in their lives, and identify and access safety strategies and support to save themselves from the often life-threatening 6 consequences of violence.

The Safer and Stronger Program Covers These Issues
Abuse Awareness - This topic is introduced by asking six questions including, “How much have you thought about abuse?,” and “How much have you thought about ways to be as safe from abuse as possible?” Abuse Screening - Questions about experiences with abuse in the past year including, “In the past year, has anyone ‘refused or forgotten to help with an important personal need such as bathing,’ ‘handled you roughly,’ or ‘touched you in a sexual way you did not want?’”
Risky Situations or Warning Signs - At this point, the program goes has two different sets of questions depending on a person’s responses. One set of questions is about factors that may increase risk for abuse. For example, whether the abuser is someone a person depends on for personal care, someone who drinks too much, or someone who controls access to health care. The other set of questions offers information about warning signs for potential perpetrators, such as people who want to control their daily activities.

Being Aware of Abuse and Staying Safe - This section is designed to elicit self-reflection and provide violence awareness information. A person learns about people and places where they may find information about abuse such as domestic violence shelters, crisis lines, disability organizations, centers for independent living, the Internet, and Adult Protective Services. Build abuse safety skills. This section is used to assess a person’s knowledge about different safety skills, such as how to choose and supervise personal assistants or support people, learn self-defense skills, or set limits on how people treat them. Reach out to someone you can trust. Asks how many people a person could reach out to, whether they have actually talked to someone about personal safety, whether they have developed a safety plan with someone, and how much they have talked with people about staying safe from abuse. Have relationships that are good for you. These questions stimulate thinking about relationship quality and safety with other people. 8

Take charge of your support. Questions regarding a person’s perceived safety and sense of control in relation to their assistants, such as, “How much do you set limits in your relationships with personal assistants?” Keep your money safe. Questions related to ways money and finances can be kept safe. Examples included, “I have a bank account in my name,” and “I have someone I can trust help me handle money.” Know your legal options. Questions in this subsection ask, “Have you ever talked with someone who could help you apply for a stalking or restraining order against an abuser?” and “How sure are you that taking legal steps will increase your safety?” Plan for emergencies. The questions in this final subsection asked about making an actual safety plan. Typical elements, such as having an extra set of keys, important documents, having a back-up personal assistant and extra medical equipment (e.g., canes, catheter bags, medications) in a safe 9 place.

Self Care - It’s important to take care of yourself when
healing from—or living through—abusive situations. Here are some ideas. Remember, different things work for different people. Try what appeals to you based on your own abilities, likes and needs. • Paint, draw, sketch about how you are feeling—give it shape, size, and color. • Keep a log of how you’re feeling throughout the day—you may be feeling several conflicting emotions at once and that’s okay. • Express anger or frustration safely (such as hitting a punching bag, screaming into your pillow or when you’re alone in your car, or ripping up cardboard). • Decorate a box and make it special to you. Write down feelings or memories and put them in the box. It can be a box for happy, safe feelings or a box where you put your sad or angry thoughts. Decide if you want to have several boxes for different emotions? Do you want to put all of your emotional writings and drawings in the same box? Or would 10 it feel safer to destroy or throw away things you’ve written?

Self Care
• Keep a list of resources that are helpful to you (names of friends, numbers for hotlines, and so forth) in your pocket, wallet, or purse. • Make a list of ten simple, free things you can do that make you happy even if for just a moment—such as walking barefoot in the rain, lighting a candle, reading a particular poem, singing a childhood song, telling a friend a joke, etc. • Many survivors are very hard on themselves & feel venting their emotions is a waste of time. If experiencing your emotions is part of your healing process, then give yourself permission to cry, be angry, vent your frustration, and express your grief. If necessary, schedule time when you give yourself permission to do nothing but cry or be angry or be happy. • Write yourself a letter as if you were your own best friend. Tell yourself all of the things you love and admire about yourself and remind yourself to be patient and gentle with yourself. Mail the letter to yourself if you think getting it in the mail will cheer you up. • Draw on your natural strengths, talents, and hobbies to 11 determine other activities that feel healing and empowering.

Asking for Support - Sometimes friends and family members want to be supportive, but they’re not sure what to say or do. They may attempt to ignore the situation for fear of saying the wrong thing, or they may unintentionally say things that make you feel worse. Here’s a list of ways friends and family can be supportive that you may want to share with people in your life. • Tell me it’s not my fault. I didn’t deserve to be assaulted. What happened to me was a crime. • Tell me you believe me. Please listen without interrupting. • Please don’t ask for details that I’m not ready to share. • Please don’t put me in a situation where I feel like I have to comfort you. • Instead of telling me what to do, ask me what I need. • Respect my confidentiality. Please don’t talk to other people about it without asking me first. • Be patient and understanding. Don’t tell me to “get over it.” It may take me months or years to recover from being abused. Healing takes time, please respect my process.

Asking for Support • Validate my emotions—I may feel rage, a deep sense of loss, betrayal, confusion, or sadness. My feelings may change rapidly, and that’s okay. • Educate yourself on the issue. Seek out information so you can be as informed as possible. Call a crisis line yourself to get the support you may need in order to support me. • Don’t tell me what I “coulda done,” “shoulda done,” or what you “woulda done.” Telling me these things only makes it worse. • Please don’t assume that you would have done anything differently than I did, you don’t know. • Please don’t question how I handled the situation. I survived which means I made the best decisions possible under extreme conditions. • Don’t make jokes or comments to lighten the situation. • Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Please don’t minimize the experience in any way. • Please be honest with me about your limitations as a support person. • Please know that I appreciate your concern and caring even though I might not show it. 13

Asking for Support • I may have personality changes as a result of the assault. These changes may impact my relationships. I may relate to you differently and, in response, you may need to relate to me differently as well. • Please don’t see me as a victim. I’m a survivor—a strong, courageous woman who is in the process of reclaiming my life. This is a lot of information to remember when you are talking to me. Just let me know that you care about me and that you’re doing the best you can. • Understand that what might have felt supportive to me yesterday might not be what I need today, please be patient and continue to ask me what I need to heal. • Supporting me may feel difficult or tiring, so please take care of yourself, too. Hotlines at women’s shelter’s can usually offer you emotional support or refer you to places where you can get the help you need in your own process. Some areas offer support groups for friends and family members of survivors.

Peer-to-Peer Guide on Domestic & Sexual Violence
People with developmental disabilities can be more at risk for abuse for many reasons. GMSA developed this guide to support self-advocates, staff, members, volunteers, and allies to know what domestic and sexual violence is and to know what to say and what to do when they hear about abusive situations.

Ways To Respond When Someone Talks To You About Abuse
• As a peer

• As a group of peers

• As an state self-advocacy organization

Ways To Increase Your Safety
• Talk to a safe person about how you feel, even if you are afraid or ashamed – many people will understand • Talk to a safe person about how you want to be treated in relationships

• Learn about warning signs
• Learn about safe relationships • Keep a list of resource numbers

and people you can call others?
• Know and believe you have a right to be treated with respect and care

Creating A Peer-to-peer Relationship For Responding To Abuse

Who is a peer? What does it take to be a peer? What do peers do to be safe people?

Peer Support
Peer support can be offered in a variety of ways: Phone Internet In-person Support Groups

Hot/Warm Lines


Definition Of Peer Support
Peer support is:
a system of giving
a system of receiving built on respect, shared responsibility, mutual agreement of what is helpful helpful to the person asking for support helpful to the service system to provide co-advocacy a trusting relationship

Peer Experiences
The peer has had similar experiences as the individual receiving the peer support: Dealing with discrimination Dealing with victimization Living with a disability or health concern

Using service systems (including crime victim services)
Learning new information/tasks



Peers are people who…
• have a desire to support others
• are safe people • want to listen • are willing to set aside their own personal stories

• know about domestic violence and sexual assault
• are available to you • do not give advice,

but offer
options and resources

Peers are people who…
learn about resources for supporting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault are willing to make a commitment to the selfadvocacy group

have a way to communicate with others, such as a phone, computer
have self-awareness and know their own limits


Parts Of A Policy For Supporting And Training Peer Safe People
• Recruiting peers who want to become safe people
• Training peers who want to provide support as a safe person

• Supporting peer safe people so they do their job well


Parts Of A Policy For Supporting And Training Peer Safe People

• Supporting a self-advocacy group to they can create a community where domestic violence and sexual

assault is talked about
• Supporting a self-advocacy group to teach other selfadvocacy group about what they have done to create

policies and support peer safe people





Information & Referral Call Center: 1-855-828-8476
Next Webinar: Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 2:00-3:00 PM, EDT The Autism Society’s Safe and Sound™ Initiative PowerPoint/Recording: These materials will be provided to all attendees. Email Phuong ( ) to request additional materials.