Working with disabled victims of violence – intellectual disabilities as a special case
There are about 30 000 people with a diagnosed intellectual disability in Finland. In addition, an estimated 300 000 people have other handicaps or difficulties of various kinds that affect their ability to learn and perceive. People from this group are more likely than others to become victims of sexual crime and violence in close relations, and therefore the police and the court often handle cases associated with them.
There are various kinds of disabilities, and each has its own impact. A common feature for all disabilities is that they limit the disabled person’s ability to act. Some disabilities have more severe consequences than others. One person can have several different disabilities. For example, a person with CP can also be intellectually disabled and suffer from epilepsy.
An intellectual disability affects the ability to understand and perceive. Some serious intellectual disabilities strongly limit the ability to act, others are less serious and mainly cause learning difficulties. Some intellectual disabilities cannot be detected in daily interaction, but new, surprising and stressful events that require high problem solving skills may be particularly difficult.
Disabilities and falling victim to violence
The disabled tend to become victims of violence more often than others. Particularly those with intellectual disabilities are often subjected to sexual violence.
Special features of violence against the disabled
A disabled victim of violence is usually abused in a close relation or at home. The culprit is mostly a person close to the victim, or an acquaintance. The culprit’s attitude towards disabilities and the victim’s dependence on others contribute to the risks.
A disabled person may often have low self-esteem and an unclear perception of the boundaries of his or her own body. The victim may also be unaware of his or her rights and may not be familiar with the concept of sexual violence.
An intellectual disability makes observing and perceiving slower and more difficult. An intellectually disabled person may not be able to recognize the risks in a particular situation or react fast enough to stop the culprit.
Pia Henttonen, social worker, sex educator, The Finnish Association for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities
Senja-project 2009-2011, Rape Crises Center Tukinainen, Association Tukinainen, funded by Finland’s Slot Machine Association
Concerning victims of violence in general, please read the guidelines in the “Working with traumatized victims” section.
Taking a disabled victim’s needs into account at the police and in court
1. If you do not know how to take the victim’s disability into account, please ask the victim about this.
2. Prepare a peaceful meeting with no disturbances and enough time.
3. Remove objects that may hinder the disabled person from moving. For example, if the victim has a wheelchair, please make sure that no furniture is in the way.
4. The victim should be treated as the main client even if he or she is accompanied by an assistant, a support person or an interpreter. Address the victim directly, not through anyone else, and look at the victim while speaking and listening.
5. A support person or an assistant may make it easier for the victim to participate in the investigation. It is good if the same person can support the victim throughout the whole legal process.
6. Find out whether the culprit has taken advantage of the fact that the victim was unable to resist the culprit or express his or her own opinion.
Taking an intellectually disabled victim’s needs into account at the police and in court
1. Express youself clearly and talk about only one thing at a time.
2. Make sure that the victim understands what you mean. Ask him or her questions and repeat the main points.
3. Support interaction. Drawing and showing pictures may make your explanations clearer and also help the victim to express himself or herself.
4. A person whom the victim knows well from before may be of great help in the investigation. The supporter can help you and the victim understand each other and can also support the victim in other ways. Please make sure that the support person does not blame the victim for having let the crime happen.
5. Find out whether the culprit has taken advantage of the fact that the victim was unable to resist the culprit or express his or her own opinion.
More information can be found on
the websites of disability organizations. For example, neurological disorders are discussed on www.nv.fi.
www.papunet.net concerning, for example, how to make communication with the victim easier.
Päivi Vilkki, Master of Law with court training, Senja-project 2009-2011, Rape Crises Centre Tukinainen, Association Tukinainen, funded by Finland’s Slot Machine Association
Katriina Sorsa, Master of Laws with court training, project coordinator, the www.senjanetti.fi Project 2017-2018, Rape Crises Centre Tukinainen, funded by the Ministry of Justice
Translated: Translation agency Henrik Lampikoski