Silent sins exposed

Silent sins exposed

Ministry steps up help for disabled victims of sexual abuse cases

About 71% of women and girls with disabilities who are sexually abused do not have access to the justice system.

Most of their cases are kept quiet or settled because perpetrators are people in their families or people they trust, according to research on "Violence against Women and Kids with Disabilities''.

The research was recently reviewed. It was supported by Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth), Social Equality Promotion Foundation and Association to Empower the Potential of Women with Disabilities.

Researcher Thipapsorn Siwathorn said the information is based on 51 sexual abuse cases collected from 31 provinces from September last year to January this year.

"Most of the wrongdoers are close to the victims such as a father, a grandfather, a brother, a relative or a community leader.

"Most of the assaults occurred in victims' houses, places that are supposed to be safe for women and children,'' she said.

Only 29% of the victims filed complaints against their offenders, of whom only 27% were sentenced by court while the rest did not make any progress.

She said 71% of the victims chose to stay quiet.

The reasons given include that their families did not want to file a case (55%), they reached a settlement with offenders (30%) while some victims were afraid or felt ashamed and did not want to pursue the matter (5%).

Ms Thipapsorn also presented some examples of sexual violence involving women with disabilities who decided to file cases.

One case happened in a northeastern province to a 15-year-old girl who has an intellectual disorder.

Her parents separated and she was left with her father who was always drunk and sometimes took drugs.

She was raped by the father but no one knew about the abuse until her neighbours told her teacher. They often heard the girl crying in pain at night.

Since the girl could not communicate well with others, the teacher tried to find what happened to her by using a doll.

She played out what happened to her by using the doll rather than verbal description. That led to the arrest of the father.

Another case was an 18-year-old girl with disability in the North. She was sexually assaulted when a village headman inserted his fingers into her vagina when she was 15 years old.

Her mother fought for her until the court handed down a jail sentence but the jail term was suspended.

Another case happened to a 46-year-old woman with a hearing impairment. She was repeatedly raped by several men from a young age.

Ms Thipapsorn said the woman was first raped by her older brother and brother's friends when she was only five.

When she was 11 years old, she was raped by one of her friends and a teacher.

When she was 22, she was raped by her colleagues and by her employer. When she was 24, she killed her employer and was sent to jail.

Fast forward to last year when she was out of jail and now 45 years old. She was raped by a male leader of an hearing-impaired group who lured her to join a hand language course.

She filed a case against the man. The Criminal Court handed him a three-year jail term, suspended.

Alisa Siwathorn, another researcher, found some bizarre beliefs also lead to sexual abuse.

She said there was a case in a remote area in the Northeast where a mother brought her disabled daughter to join a weird ceremony every week.

She believed that by having male devotees engaged in sexual intercourse with her daughter, it could heal her daughter's disability.

"There are more cases like this where locals believe in some strange cults that lead to sexual abuse to women and girls with disabilities," she said.

With limitations to their physical abilities, it was hard for them to seek justice themselves, she said.

Their disabilities can limit their ability to receive information or even communicate to others about what happened to them.

The justice system, she said, must be adjusted to make it accessible to all people with disabilities to prevent the cycle of violence.

Saowalak Thongkuay, a member of committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability, said most victims do not take their cases to court because they do not have the necessary legal knowledge.

Also, about 90% of wrongdoers are family members, so other members of their families often resist filing a case, she said.

"Women with disabilities are human like anyone else but most of them are treated as if their existence is not important,'' she said.

Lawyer Arunsri Meewongtham said helping victims with communication or intellectual disabilities was difficult because sometimes the lawyer is not sure if the victims truly understand questions or if they can follow legal terms.

"Despite the complicated process, it cannot compare with the pain from sexual violence that women with disabilities face so every party should join hands to provide justice to them,'' said Ms Arunsri.

Patcharee Arayakul, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, said the ministry will work with all sectors to ensure the justice system is accessible to all and wrongs are righted.

Wrongdoers, no matter what their relationship to the victim, must be punished, she said.

The Departments of Women's Affairs and Family Development and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities will provide legal support to disabled people who fall victim to abuse while the ministry will raise more awareness about their rights.

"We must encourage victims to have the courage and know that they will not fight alone as we support them.

"We will fight with them to the end of the judicial process," said Ms Patcharee.

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