Trauma Warning: This article contains content related to sexual violence, which could be distressing or traumatic for certain readers.
On March 29, 2005, Fumilayo Mobolajiwas involved in a car accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury. She has been in a wheelchair since then.
Still, Mobolaji said using a wheelchair is less traumatic than her experience with her former partner. She was abused verbally and emotionally.
“He told me that I was not submissive, asking who would marry a lady like me. He was fond of saying, ‘don’t you know it is a privilege for me to date someone like you? I am looking at your condition. They say whoever sleeps with a wheelchair will become rich.”
When Mobolaji summoned courage and ended the affair, the abuse didn’t stop there. Men outside her home would touch her lap and other sensitive body parts inappropriately.
Other men asked her, “Has it been long since you had sex? Let me be helping you sexually,” she recounted.
For Sadiya Suleiman, the cause of her pain was her uncle.
Suleiman, whose left leg is prosthetic, wasn’t worried when her uncle picked her up from boarding school that day and took her to a guest house. “Since he is my uncle and I was so close to him, I didn’t expect anything untoward,” she recalled.
But that would be the first of many other times the uncle would rape the 16-year-old. She remembered trying to stop him, closing her legs and pleading with him that she was being hurt, and then going numb.
“When he removed his clothes and came on top of me, he penetrated me forcefully and painfully. His face was really evil, like a devil. That’s the only way I can explain it.”
She has told no one of that experience ever since because she was scared and has continued to suffer in silence.
Individuals responsible for the well-being of women and girls with disabilities are paradoxically often the perpetrators of violence against them. When facing the choice of speaking up or keeping one’s silence, PWDs fear that speaking out will result in them being blamed.
Still, girls and young women with disabilities face up to 10 times more violence than those without disabilities.
Empowering Females with disabilities
Addressing the abuse of individuals with disabilities needs a comprehensive strategy that encompasses legal measures, the establishment of robust support networks, and the empowerment of these individuals.
Curbing the tide of violence against PWDs would start with enforcing more robust legal frameworks that protect the rights of women with disabilities and addressing the existing laws’ gaps to ensure their safety and prevent discrimination, this would include the proper implementation of the disability rights law across the country.
This involves stringent penalties for offenders and specialized training for police officers on how to handle cases involving this vulnerable group with sensitivity and expertise. By upholding and enforcing these legal provisions, a formidable deterrent can be established against potential perpetrators.
Support networks play a pivotal role in combating abuse. Creating safe and confidential reporting mechanisms enables survivors to come forward without fear of reprisal, while accessible counselling and mental health services help survivors navigate the aftermath of abuse. These networks foster a sense of community and solidarity among survivors, providing a space to share experiences, exchange advice, and receive the validation and assistance they need to heal.
Empowerment is fundamental in this fight. Equipping persons with disabilities with age-appropriate sex education, self-advocacy skills, and knowledge about their rights bolsters their ability to recognize and protect themselves against abuse.
By fostering an environment that encourages self-expression and agency, we empower individuals to confidently report abuse and actively participate in dismantling the structures that enable it. Through these combined efforts in legal reform, support network establishment, and empowerment initiatives, we can strive to end the cycle of sexual abuse faced by individuals with disabilities.