Meet our Volunteers!

We’re pleased to announce that our little team has grown in recent months and we’re excited to introduce you all to our new volunteers!

SALIHA

Saliha has studied Psychology and Law and is currently completing a masters in Social Work at the University of Kent. She is blind and a survivor of honour-based abuse.

“I decided to become a volunteer for DSU to give a voice for disabled women, and to be an advocate for equal rights. I am particularly passionate about speaking out against the oppression of disabled women and gender-based violence. Furthermore, I would like to empower all disabled individuals, from all walks of life, to achieve their potential.”

JACK

Jack is an autistic activist who works within the charity sector and supports work that helps to empower young and disabled people alike. He lives in Weymouth, Dorset.

“I am delighted to be joining DSU at this time where it is continuing to grow in profile and activism, with a whole network of supportive volunteers to help ensure disabled people’s voices are heard and given hope at times of deep adversity.”

KESHIA JADE

Keshia Jade is an autistic adult currently studying for her BA in Theology with Philosophy at the University of London. She blogs on issues surround mental health, faith, and education.

“Volunteering with the DSU offers me the chance to use my voice, and experiences, to advocate for those who have been forced to suffer in silence. I feel blessed to be a part of an organisation that is focused ensuring that disabled people are heard.”

ZAHRA

Zahra is a Journalism student at the University of Leeds. She has a particular interest in media representations of disabled people and domestic violence issues.

“I’m very excited to start volunteering with DSU. It’s great to be getting involved with the only organisation I know of to focus on helping disabled survivors of domestic abuse.”

JAMIE

Jamie has an MA in Social Policy and Ba hons in Politics and Social Policy. He is currently a visiting lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton.

“Working with DSU is really meaningful for me, I want to campaign with and for survivors to improve access to support and educate people.”

BENJAMIN

Benjamin is a Philosophy graduate living in Leeds. He has an interest in disability issues and mental health.

“I’m particularly interested in issues surrounding mental health and the various accessibility barriers associated with them. I’m excited to volunteer with DSU to help tackle these issues.”

JEMMA

Jemma works in education and is a keen volunteer. She aspires to be a community arts practitioner.

“Much of my volunteering to date has been geared towards creating opportunities and supporting change on a local level. Through working with DSU I have the chance to work on projects that are both potentially larger in scale and longer term. More than this, volunteering for DSU will enable me to make an active contribution to a cause which is important to me.”

RACHEL

Rachel is a Social Policy student, Care Worker, and Volunteer in Canterbury, Kent. She is interested in social welfare policies, the care sector, and activism related to sexuality and queer issues.

“I am excited to be working with Disabled Survivors Unite to raise awareness and advocate for better support for survivors of abuse, particularly with an organisation founded by those with personal experience of the issue.”

NATASHA

Natasha has an MEd in Educational Psychology. She is currently an NHS clinical reviewer and autism specialist support worker.

“I am thrilled to be part of Disabled Survivors Unite to help support other disabled survivors and make sure their voices are heard and represented.”

David’s Story

The (re)Storytellers Project was created to amplify the voices of disabled victims and survivors. Submissions are shared in an effort to foster community and bring about change in the way disabled victims and survivors are seen and treated. In this post, David shares his story.

Content note: This post discusses sexual abuse by a carer and being failed by the justice system and Social Services.

I am in need of carers to help me get showered and ready and dressed in the mornings and have been using these services for about 3 years, all with the same care company and without any problems. Due to my disability I had a need for a wet room to be fitted.

During the course of the work being done, I needed to have an all over wash while standing at the sink, most of which I am able to do myself, albeit very slowly, and was able to wash myself down to just above my knees. On this particular occasion, on the 3rd of April, I was washing myself as usual and had finished washing the top half of my body, incidentally, I am unable to wash my back myself but try to be as independent as possible.

After washing the top half and before washing my groin area, I put my flannel into the sink to wash it out before continuing… At this point the carer snatched the flannel from my hand and started to wash my groin area.

I will not go into full details as to what happened next, even now I am unable to talk about it. However, the carer made a couple of very strange comments while “washing” that particular area. At one point I went “oh”. I was intending to say “oh, what do you think you are doing?” but stopped myself from finishing the sentence.

He then said, “sorry if I’m hurting you but I need to do it like this because that part needs more washing” I didn’t say anything at the time as I couldn’t quite believe what was happening.

Having thought about it and getting more and more upset as it sunk in, I decided to report the matter to the office. They in turn reported it to social services, and a meeting was then arranged between the social worker, one of the office supervisors and myself. As a result of this discussion I made the decision to report the whole thing to the police.

Whilst the policewoman was very nice, I was advised that the matter could not be taken further as there was no evidence it was my word against his.

To all intents and purposes that was the end of the matter, and I requested to only be allocated female carers.

The social then provided me with a copy of what was his concluding report. I read things in there that the perpetrator had said during the course of the investigation that I thought needed to be addressed as they were quite simply pure and utter lies. He had said that it was the first time he had been to me while my new shower was being fitted and that I had requested to be “washed all over”.

However, it was the 4th time he had been to me and was fully aware of what was required. If I asked to be “washed all over” why did he then not wash the top half of my body? He brushed the whole thing off as “being helpful and thorough”.

Obviously there were no witnesses, as presumably it wouldn’t have happened had anybody else been present… The care company told me that he had been put on to only double calls, though I have been told by other carers that this is definitely not true.

What really bugs me, apart from what happened is the fact that the perpetrator has been able to get away with it, keep his job and escaped with this scot free? I needed to have counselling as a result of this, which I had to pay for out of my own pocket as I was informed there was a 6 month waiting list otherwise.

As an interesting footnote, only yesterday I happened to see one of my old carers in the street, and he actually told me, without any prompting from me, and without me telling him about what had happened, that he had left his job as he often worked with this perpetrator and felt “very uncomfortable” with him.

There is absolutely no question that this was misinterpreted, or could be put down to being “helpful” or “thorough” this was an assault, pure and simple and he has got away with it without any repercussions.

I have since found out that my abuser left his previous job with another care agency because he was unable to get enough work due to too many people not prepared to work with him. He’s still working for the company I use but I now know that more official complaints have been made against him and carers have left because they felt very uncomfortable working with him.

It seems very clear that there is much, much more to this – I wasn’t the first and unquestionably won’t be the last. I have no idea how but this man needs stopping.

If you have been affected by this post, we have a list of support services that work with survivors of all kinds of abuse and violence. Please click here to view the list.

If you would like to submit your story, please click here for our anonymous submission form. If you would prefer to title the post yourself, please include this in your message. You can also email us: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Farewell Holly!

Our friend, colleague, and fellow Co-Founder Holly Scott-Gardner is leaving our organisation as she goes to study in Colombia.

Holly was one of the founders of Disabled Survivors Unite and she has had a leading role in creating and building our organisation. Mostly notably her work has focussed on promoting sex education for young disabled people and disability access to services. She also created and ran our wonderful website and blog.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Holly for all the passion and hard work she’s brought over the last year, our organisation really wouldn’t have been what it is today without her. We will always remember and be inspired by her determination and unwavering perseverance.

Holly has been a friend to us all as much as she has been a colleague, and while we’ll continue to be friends from afar, we’ll miss her very much. But we’re glad for the time we’ve been able to spend together—we have so many fond memories, special moments, and happy times filled with fun and laughter that we’ll always treasure.

It’s been an honour to work with Holly, we wish her all the best for her future and look forward to hearing about her adventures in South America!

Photo of Alice, Holly, Bekki, and Ashley in Brussels. All smiling. Photo in black and white.

We are looking for volunteers!

We are looking for an ambitious and enthusiastic people to volunteer with Disabled Survivors Unite!

The vast majority of work will be done remotely from home, but there may be opportunities for you to attend events and meetings if you are able to.

Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss and chose what their role will be in within the organisation. You may want to work in campaigns, research, administration, events, fundraising, blogging, training, or another area.

Positions are open to anyone living in the UK, and we especially welcome applications from people who are disabled, BME, and LGBTQ+.

Job description

You will be passionate about creating change for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence.

You will have the ability to handle sensitive and confidential information.

You will be able to discuss abuse and sexual violence.

We are flexible on how much time volunteers can commit, but it would be preferable for you to give a certain amount of hours per month.

We will ensure applicants and volunteers have their access and communication needs met.

Please note that this is an unpaid role as we are currently unfunded, this means every position within our organisation is voluntary.

For more information or to request an application form please email: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Closing date: 15 July 2017

A Refuge for All

Shaping Our Lives has secured funding for a project to make refuges more accessible to disabled survivors.

The project is called A Refuge for All, and they are looking for disabled women who have experienced violence or abuse to help take part.

Interested in getting involved?

There will be two focus groups held next month;

London on 14 June from 1pm – 4.15pm.

Birmingham on 22 June from 1pm – 4.15pm.

Travel expenses and some support costs will be covered, and there will be a payment of £50 offered for your time. Lunch will be provided too.

An Advisory Group will also be set up, they will meet eight times over the next two years starting from this July.

If you’d like to find out more information, register an interest in attending a focus group, or inquire about joining the Advisory Group, please contact Becki Meakin.

Email: becki@shapingourlives.org.uk

Phone: 07956 424511

What is the project?

The aim of A Refuge for All is to establish practices which will meet the needs of disabled survivors and pilot these through existing services.

The project has been inspired by the Women’s Aid report Making the Links: Disabled Women and Domestic Violence which highlighted the lack of accessible services in the UK.

The project will be co-produced by disabled women and people who work in services. It will start by evaluating this research in the current context.

It aims to develop a user-led service model, raise awareness of the abuse disabled women experience, and look at how barriers to services can be broken down.

It will establish two pilot sites where services will be made fully accessible, and these will be used as an example of good practice and show how services can reach out to the disability community.

The project will also bring together services, other agencies, and disabled people’s organisations to improve partnership working and understanding.

Who are Shaping Our Lives?

Shaping Our Lives is a non-profit user-led organisation. It hosts a national network of user-led groups, service users, and disabled people.

The organisation is committed to inclusivity and diversity. They ensure that diverse and excluded communities are represented in the policy making, planning, and delivery of services.

You can visit their website by clicking here.

World Autism Awareness Week – Call for Submissions

Disabled Survivors Unite is taking part in The National Autistic Society’s World Autism Awareness Week 2017.

From 27 March – 2 April, we will be raising awareness of autistic people’s experiences of abuse and sexual violence by amplifying their voices on our blog.

We welcome all autistic survivors who have experienced any form of abuse to submit a blog post. Please note this includes people who have self-diagnosed.

This project is for people who have experienced any kind of abuse or sexual violence. This includes, but is not limited to; bullying, hate crime, institutional abuse, domestic abuse, abuse by family, unwanted touching, sexual assault, rape. If you identify as a survivor (or a victim), we welcome you to take part.

There is no right or wrong way to share your story or feelings, and we encourage you to do this in whichever way you would like.

Here are a few ideas;

  • Write a letter to someone
  • Share a piece of art you have created or a photograph you have took
  • Tell your story
  • Share information that you think people need to know about autism and abuse
  • Write a poem
  • Offer advice

If you would like our help to create a blog post, please get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to assist you!

You can send all submissions by email: a.stephen@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Or you can send written submissions anonymously by filling in the form at the end of this post. We will keep all blog posts anonymous unless you ask us not to. Please read how we ensure all survivors stay safe when sharing their story.

If you get in touch with us by email, you can still choose to remain anonymous and do not have to give us your name.

If you send us your blog by email, we can let you know what day and time it will be published.

We hope you will consider helping us in our campaign to have autistic survivors voices heard.

Write for our blog


 

Support Ratifying The Istanbul Convention

Purple and white logo. The female gender sign with a clenched fist in the centre. Text says "#changeherstory write to your MP to ratify the Istanbul Convention"

This Friday MPs have the opportunity to vote on the third reading of a Private Members Bill which supports the ratification of The Istanbul Convention.

To read about how this Convention will protect disabled women and girls against violence, please read our previous blog post.

100 MPs must vote on Friday to ensure that the Bill makes it to the next stage, but most will be in their local constituencies rather than Parliament.

By asking your MP to vote, you could make a difference. In December 135 MPs supported the Bill, many of who were encouraged to vote because they were asked by their constituents.

We have created a template letter which you can email to your MP, please click here to download it. You can also Tweet your MP and ask them to vote using the #ChangeHerstory hashtag.

To find your MPs email address, Twitter handle, and Facebook page, click here.

For more information about IC Change’s wonderful #ChangeHerstory campaign, please visit their website.

#ITSNOTOK Campaign Roundup

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we ran a campaign to amplify the voices of disabled survivors.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated and supported our campaign. Thank you for helping to raise awareness of disabled people’s experiences.

At its heart, Disabled Survivors Unite is an activist organisation, and we will continue to campaign for change.

Why not catch up on the blogs we’ve posted this week?

On Monday, a disabled survivor shared their story which helped us to better understand the relationship between disability and rape.

On Tuesday, we announced that we’d be hosting a disability-themed #itsnotok Twitter Q&A with Respond.

On Wednesday, a disabled survivor wrote a letter of support to other disabled survivors.

On Thursday, we published a piece of writing by a disabled survivor who spoke about healing after sexual violence.

On Friday, I wrote a piece on the importance of accessible support after abuse and sexual violence. We also hosted the Twitter Q&A and we are delighted with how many people participated. You can view the Storify of the Twitter Q&A by clicking here.

On Saturday, we asked our Twitter followers to write messages to disabled survivors and published these.

On Sunday, our co-founder Ashley wrote an honest account of life after sexual violence.

Would you like to keep up to date with our work? Please sign up to our monthly newsletter here.

A Message for Disabled Survivors #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

Yesterday, Disabled Survivors Unite and Respond hosted a disability-themed Twitter Q&A. We asked participants if they could say one thing to a disabled survivor, what would it be? Here are their responses.

“You deserve life. To be happy, to be free. It’s ok to laugh and allow yourself to feel.”Holly Scott-Gardner

“I believe you, it shouldn’t have happened. We can listen, we are not afraid to hear what you need to share.”Noelle Blackman (CEO of Respond)

“You’re loved, you’re worthy, & people are fighting for you. You’re never alone. Your experiences are valid. We believe you.”Disabled Survivors Unite

“It wasn’t your fault. Regardless of what they said, or how they tried to blame you, it wasn’t your fault.”Applewriter

“You survived, you’re strong and you know the truth and therefore you’ll know if someone is trying to silence you.”Respond

“You’ve survived – there’s hope now to find a way to live again and beyond the pain.”Jack Welch

“NEVER blame your impairment (only the abuser) and fight all you need to regain absolute pride in yourself, just as you are.”Merry Cross

“I’ll always be here for you and you mean the world to me. You’re never alone. I love you.”Ashley Stephen

“You are not alone, and you never will be.”Alice Kirby

“I find sharing stories helps survivors, shows that we can get justices.”Mandy Sanghera

I would like to personally thank each and every person who took part in the discussions we had yesterday. The Storify of the Q&A can be found by clicking here

Do you need support? Please click here.

The Importance of Support #ITSNOTOK

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

For Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we are amplifying disabled survivors voices on our blog. This post is written by one of our founders, Alice, who is a disabled survivor.

Content note: this post is about the impact that lack of support has on disabled survivors.

“Often it isn’t the initiating trauma that creates seemingly insurmountable pain, but the lack of support after.” ― S. Kelley

This quote is one of my favourites because it reminds us just how important support is after experiencing abuse and sexual violence.

In my work at Disabled Survivors Unite I have heard a countless amount of testimonies from disabled survivors, and the theme that runs throughout them all is the devastating impact of being unsupported. It is also a theme that I have experienced throughout my life.

Many disabled people we hear from have not gotten the support they need, whether that be therapy or emergency accommodation, simply because it was not made accessible to them. In their time of need, they are turned away.

Others are forced to have inaccessible support which is harmful to their health and wellbeing. It is crucial that we recognise the detrimental effect this can have on a persons life.

Some disabled survivors speak out about what has happened to them, but their stories are ignored or dismissed because of their disability. Others are blamed for the abuse they have endured, or are told that their disability was the cause.

With government cuts affecting the vast majority of front line services, it can sometimes be hard to see hope for disabled survivors. Many services simply cannot afford to make adaptions to their buildings or redesign what they offer, they are already struggling to operate on their budgets.

But I do see hope, Disabled Survivors Unite are changing things. The services we consult with are keen to support disabled people, and we have shown them how they can be inclusive without the expense of having to renovate their building.

The message that we give to services is this – no matter what, welcome disabled survivors with open arms. Invite us to use your service, ask us what we need, make adjustments, provide alternatives, and help us to find somewhere that can support us if you cannot.

Being given the opportunity and ability to access support really is vital. It can help a victim become a survivor. And without it, we suffer.

If you would like to work with us to improve your service, please email: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

If you are a disabled survivor who would like support, or help to find accessible support in your area, please click here.