#ITSNOTOK Call for Submissions

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

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week is fast approaching, and we want to hear from you!

From 6th – 12th of February we will be giving you the opportunity to have your voice heard.

We are looking for disabled people who have survived sexual abuse/violence to create blog posts for us. This will help people to understand how we experience this type of abuse and what needs to change.

There is no right or wrong way to share your story or feelings, but we thought we’d give you 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 disability and sexual abuse/violence
  • 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 submission by email: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Or you can send written submissions anonymously using this form.

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.

We hope you will consider helping us in our campaign to have disabled survivors voices heard!

Disabled Survivors Unite is Headed to the European Parliament

Disabled Survivors Unite is thrilled to announce we are speaking on the panel “Domestic Violence Against People with Disabilities” at the European Parliament. 

All four co-founders will be giving testimonies from disabled survivors, alongside TABÚ from Iceland and We Rise Again from Sweden. Our friend Eleanor Lisney from Sisters of Frida will also be speaking about structural barriers faced by victims of domestic violence. 

This hearing, which is hosted by MEP Soraya Post, hopes to raise awareness of domestic abuse against disabled people and put the issue on the political agenda.

This event will be taking place on the 31st of January in Brussels. 

Disabled Women’s Dark Reality

Guest post by Dr Kirsty Liddiard, Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield and Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, Professor of Critical Disability Studies & Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University

Content note: this post includes descriptions of abuse and sexual violence experienced by disabled women.

According to the World Health Organisation, disabled people are 1.5 times more likely to experience violence and 4 times more likely if the person has a mental health condition. Markedly, disabled women experience sexual violence in greater numbers than both disabled men and non-disabled women.

Violence and its causes have social, cultural and economic underpinnings. By this, we mean that our likelihood as individuals of experiencing violence is rooted in society’s unequal power relations. Violence doesn’t take place in a vacuum, but is steeped in inequity.

When it comes to intimate partner violence – also known as domestic violence – disabled women (we include women with mental illness in this category) suffer in myriad ways. For many disabled women, intimate partner violence goes unnoticed because they are assumed to not be in intimate, sexual and loving relationships at all.

Additionally, the types of harm to which disabled women are subjected can be unrecognisable when we think of ‘domestic violence’ in its traditional sense: a denial of care; withholding medication and food; encouraging self-harm; and exploiting and exacerbating incidences of psychosis, mania and depression are forms of violence unique to mental and physical impairment and illness.

Even when seeking justice, disabled women face barriers. Women who experience mental distress are seldom supported in ways they need to report violence and give evidence in court. Quite often, women’s testimonies are doubted or disbelieved because of their mental health diagnosis. This is even more likely if women are institutionalised, detained (for example, under a mental health section) or are deemed to lack capacity.

While we – as authors whose lives intersect with disability in various ways – don’t want to emphasise disabled women as inherently vulnerable or as victims, it is important to recognise that disabled people experience less privacy in their lives, have increased reliance on others, services and institutions for care, and experience increased access to their bodies by non-disabled people – all of which increase chances of experiencing abuse, violence and exploitation. We think it is important that we highlight this in our communities – particularly during these very difficult times of austerity where cuts to services and a rolling back of the welfare state mean many disabled people are living in more vulnerable circumstances.

Importantly, disabled women also experience an overwhelming lack of access and support in leaving situations of violence – often because the majority of women’s services and refuges don’t cater to their needs. This is despite the fact that disabled women, in comparison to non-disabled women, are more likely to experience sexual and physical violence in their lifetime by people close to them (parents, intimate partners and carers).

Commonly, mainstream domestic abuse organisations seldom consider disabled women within their remit, and services and refuges themselves can be inaccessible in a range of ways. The pragmatics of disability and care are pertinent here: the ability to leave a situation of violence, or move out of the family home (often quickly, quietly and without raising unwanted attention), can be far more difficult if the support of another person is needed, or if your home has been specifically adapted to meet your needs.

The stories of disabled survivors of domestic violence have highlighted a reluctance to leave care packages that have been fought long and hard for, and that care provision is currently not flexible enough to move with women in ways that would protect them. Again, these worries run deeper at a time of significant governmental and local authority cuts to existing care provision.

It is important that disabled women’s stories are heard and that they are given a voice. While talking about violence and hearing such stories is difficult, listening to women – all women – is one critical step we can all take towards keeping women (and others) safe.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

If you would like to share your story with us, you can anonymously submit by clicking here.

Please note that a longer version of this article was originally published by Disability Now.

The Istanbul Convention Vote – Friday 16th Decemeber

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"

Why it’s important?

From the ICChange website: “The Istanbul Convention…is the most comprehensive legal framework that exists to tackle violence against women and girls.”

The Convention sets minimum standards for governments across the global to meet to protect women and girls against violence. The ratification of the Istanbul Convention (IC) in the UK would mean that our government would be legally bound to uphold the convention, forcing them to take necessary steps to PREVENT violence, PROTECT those experiencing violence and PROSECUTE perpetrators. This would mean a lasting, national commitment to the safety of women and girls experiencing violence, it would mean real change.

The Istanbul Convention has been given the ‘gold standard’ by UN Women and deemed ‘ground-breaking’ by the Human Rights Watch.

Countries that have already ratified the Istanbul Convention:

• Albania • Andorra • Austria • Belgium • Bosnia and Herzegovina • Denmark • France • Italy • Malta • Monaco • Montenegro • Portugal • Serbia • Slovenia • Spain • Sweden • Turkey

Why we need to ask our MPs to vote

This Friday, 16th December, our MPs are voting on the law that will decide whether or not the Istanbul Convention gets ratified in the UK. However, at least 100 MPs need to be present for the Bill to pass onto the next stage. As the vote is taking place on a Friday, and the last Parliamentary session before the holidays, most MPs will be in their local constituencies at this time, and less likely to show up to the debate.

Because of this, it’s important for us to campaign/write to our local MPs to get them to attend the debate for the Private Members Bill on Friday.

This debate could lead us to having a government that has a practical and legal framework to protect women and girls from violence. It could lead to the creation of more adequate refuges and women’s shelters, the funding for women’s services, 24-hour helplines and specialist services.

All the co-founders have emailed their MP, as this is an issue close to all of our hearts. This is a Bill that is vitally important to women everywhere, but especially to disabled women. Being 3.7% more likely to experience violence and abuse in our lifetimes compared to able-bodied women, these measures are vital for us and could be life changing.

DSU have created a template for anyone to use to email their MP about this matter. You can find that here: Istanbul Convention MP Template

If you have the energy to, create some noise on social media too, use the hashtags: #StandByMe #ChangeHerStory #IstanbulConvention

And if you are wondering how to find your MPs email, take a look here: http://www.ukpolitical.info/Finder.htm

Support Disabled Survivors Unite this #GivingTuesday

Today is #GivingTuesday and we would like to encourage people to support our cause in one of the following ways:

  • We appreciate all donations, no matter how small, to our GoFundME. We are a small voluntary-led organisation and are completely unfunded.
  • We are looking for people to donate their time to help us write grants to secure funding. Please see our blog post to find out more.
  • If you are a disabled survivor, you can share your story with us through our (re)Storytellers project. We use these stories to raise awareness of disabled survivors experiences.
  • You can also retweet us and share our message, the more people that hear about us the more change we can make!

Why not tweet the following to show your support for DSU

Thank you for all your support.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women: A Disabled Perspective

Red circle logo. Around the circle text says "stop violence day". In the circle text says "November 25, STOP violence against women". Handprint replaces the o in stop.

Content note: this post includes descriptions of abuse and sexual violence experienced by disabled women.

Last year Public Health England published a report which found that disabled people are twice as likely to experience abuse and sexual violence compared to non-disabled people. And disabled women were identified as being at the highest risk.

They also reported that the abuse disabled people experience is likely to be more severe, frequent, and last for longer periods of time. Yet, across the country, support services for survivors are simply not accessible to disabled people. This is why we exist.

Many services understanding of disability access is narrow, with some believing it simply equates to their building being accessible to wheelchair users. While this is very important, we train them to have a much broader interpretation of access needs and reasonable adjustments.

Our work goes beyond accessibility. We want all services to understand that in order to be truly inclusive, they must recognise that the forms of abuse against disabled people cannot be likened to the experiences of non-disabled survivors. In fact, the abuse we suffer is often unrecognisable when the two are compared.

Many disabled women are abused by partners who also care for them. This gives the abuser the power to withhold food, medication, and personal care. Perpetrators are also able to limit a disabled person’s independence by exacerbating their conditions. One woman told us that her abuser induced seizures that physically harmed her, another explained her wheelchair was damaged by an abusive partner to prevent her from leaving the house.

Disabled people also experience institutional abuse. We recently supported a woman called Jade* whose social worker refused to change her care provider when she explained her personal assistant was being abusive. Jade was told if she cancelled her care package altogether she would not be allowed to leave the house alone and if she did it would result in her being raped. Her social worker knew prior to saying this that Jade was raped as a child.

Disabled women are also less likely to be believed when they speak out about being abused. This is because we are completely desexualised, we are seen to be undesirable and passive. This leads people to believe we cannot be victims of sexual violence and, as a result, we are often disbelieved more frequently. One woman we met was told: “Things like this don’t happen to people like you.”

The dynamic of our abuse is completely unique to disabled people and a big part of our work is to raise awareness of this. It is imperative that all services and organisation which work with survivors recognise this in order to best support disabled people.

On this day, and everyday, we stand alongside our disabled sisters who have experienced abuse. We believe you. We are here to listen. And together, we will create change.

If you would like to share your story with us, please visit our (re)Storytellers page.

If you need support, please visit our support page.

*Please note that small details of the stories in this post have been altered to protect people’s identities, including names; however the abuse experienced has not been changed.

Anti-Bullying Week 2016: Power for Good

POWER FOR GOOD logo. The W in power is shaped like an arrow. #ANTIBULLYINGWEEK at bottom of image.

We’ve been celebrating Anti-Bullying week across the UK. Here at Disabled Survivors Unite we are committed to ensuring the voices of disabled survivors are heard.

I experienced bullying myself during a number of points in my life and know the affect it can have on a person. The thing I most want people to understand is that there is no shame in having experienced bullying. It is not your fault, no matter how people may make you feel that it is.

Bullying can be a form of institutional abuse, and I want to hear more people talking about this, and what we can do to stop it. Whether you are at school and a teacher does not take your concerns seriously, or you feel that your carers and personal assistants try to silence you please know that DSU are here, and we will always listen.

This years Anti-Bullying Week theme is “power for good”. I pledge as an individual, and as a co-founder of DSU to use my voice, and any positions of power I hold for good. A huge part of that is amplifying disabled voices to ensure that we are never silenced.

If you have experienced bullying, there are a number of organisations you can contact. DSU will support you as a disabled survivor, but you can also contact the following organisations:

  • Bullying UK supports those who have been bullied in a number of environments, including at school, at work and online.
  • The National Bullying Helpline is a voluntary run helpline that assists people who have experienced bullying of all descriptions. They are open between 9 AM and 5 PM Monday to Saturday and will take urgent calls out of hours. You can contact them by calling 0845 22 55 787 or 07734 701221
  • Childline has lots of advice on their website about what to do if you are bullied, and how to build your confidence after you have experienced bullying. Childline is a free service helping anyone in the UK under the age of 19. You can either phone, email or get support online.

If you would like to contact Disabled Survivors Unite please email us

We are recruiting grants writers!

Disabled Survivors Unite are looking for ambitious and enthusiastic disabled people to help us to write grants!

This role is voluntary, as is every position within the organisation. Work will be done remotely from home and hours are very flexible!

Job description;

You will have a key role in ensuring we secure funding to achieve change for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence.

You will have experience in writing bids for Trusts and Foundations, preparing proposals, or fundraising.

You will have the ability to handle confidential information and work as part of a team.

This opportunity is open to anyone living in the UK.

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

Closing date: 28 February 2017

Disabled Survivors Unite on Going Back Giving Back

Photo of Holly and Aled Jones

Co-Founder Holly Scott-Gardner was featured on today’s episode of Going Back Giving Back. Here she writes about her experiences with the show and what it means for DSU.

I’m sat at a table talking about my life. It’s not an experience I’m especially used to. I can stand in front of an audience and speak about blindness and the importance of independence, but somehow this feels different. I admit that I was bullied, I know it’s not really an admission; not something I need to hide, but it has always felt like a secret I should keep hidden deep inside of me. This isn’t just a conversation between two people. I am being filmed for a television show that thousands will see. I am giving my life story to the world because I have a message that I want everyone to hear. Disabled Survivors Unite is here, and we want you to know about us. Filming for Going Back Giving Back was an incredible experience. I can’t thank Michael enough for the support he has shown Disabled Survivors Unite and I look forward to us working with him in the future. The support he is providing us really is essential and will enable us to expand our existing work. If you would like to watch the episode, you can find it on BBC iPlayer.

Ashley attends Campaign Bootcamp

Ashley smiling wearing a red shirt with ‘campaign bootcamp’ on the front

This week I attended Campaign Bootcamp, an intensive residential training course for people to develop their campaigning skills. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from Campaign Bootcamp, without which I would not have been able to attend. Throughout the week we were trained by experts in strategy, social media, publicity, outreach, technology, and fundraising. We also put what we learnt into practice through interactive and immersive exercises.

The skills I learnt will undoubtedly be put to good use with the work Disabled Survivors Unite are doing. The intensity of the training has also prepared me for the realities of running campaigns and I feel much more confident as a result. In addition, it was a great opportunity to develop team skills and network with fellow Bootcampers, some of whom have expressed interest in working with DSU in the future.

The team behind Campaign Bootcamp went out of their way to make sure everything was accessible. I greatly look forward to working with them over the next year through their mentorship programme to continue improving on everything I’ve learned. All these skills will surely help Disabled Survivors Unite thrive as an organisation.

Group of Campaign Bootcamp attendees standing together outside, most of whom are wearing red Campaign Bootcamp shirts