What is institutional power imbalance

Unfortunately, institutional structures often encourage abuse

Experience shows that women who grow up dependent on care have a very high risk of being attacked. Elisabeth Udl and Michaela Neubauer explain why this is so in the BIZEPS-INFO interview.

The topic of abuse has been preoccupying the media for weeks. BIZEPS-INFO asked Elisabeth Udl and Michaela Neubauer (both from the “Ninlil Association - Against Sexual Violence against Women with Learning Difficulties and Multiple Disabilities”) to explain why disabled women are twice as likely to be affected by sexual violence.

BICEPS INFO: There is currently an intense debate about abuse in homes for the disabled. Why now?

Elisabeth Udl: In the last few months there has been a wave of reports in the media about abuse cases in church contexts. Subsequently, abuse in institutions such as boarding schools etc. was discussed - a broader public became aware that institutional structures are unfortunately often an “ideal environment” for abusers.

From this realization to the suspicion that there is also abuse in facilities for the disabled, it is only a small step.

BIZEPS INFO: In your opinion, how widespread is abuse in homes for the disabled?

Elisabeth Udl: There is an Austrian study from 1996 that states that women with learning difficulties or multiple disabilities are twice as likely to experience sexual violence as non-disabled women. (See BIZEPS-INFO article)

Our experience also shows that women who grow up and live dependent on care have a very high risk of being attacked.

BIZEPS INFO: How does this happen?

Elisabeth Udl: As already said: Unfortunately, institutional structures often encourage abuse. Basically it can be said: Structural violence is always a breeding ground for other forms of violence. Abuse and violence can occur particularly easily in institutions whose everyday life is determined by a power imbalance characterized by dependency.

At the same time, it is the case that people who are dependent on care often learn from childhood that they are not allowed to determine their own limits - others know everything better, parents, teachers and then seamlessly supervisors in the workshop and dormitory set the rules that determine the everyday life of the people concerned.

From these experiences it follows that people with learning difficulties can be manipulated more easily by abusers - typical perpetrator strategies are, for example, threats ("If you tell someone that, you will be kicked out of here"), or the obfuscation of facts ("Das what I do with you is completely normal, I have the right to do so ”). Unfortunately, people with learning difficulties who are dependent on childcare are often particularly vulnerable to such perpetrator strategies.

BICEPS INFO: What do you think could be done about abuse and violence in facilities for the disabled?

Elisabeth Udl: We are convinced that the highest possible degree of self-determination is the most important instrument for preventing violence. Violence against women is a problem for society as a whole - even the best prevention work will not be able to completely prevent the occurrence of violence. Nevertheless, a lot can be done to at least reduce sexual violence.

As already mentioned, a basic component of prevention is the promotion of self-determination. When women and men with disabilities experience in everyday life that their opinion counts, that their limits are recognized and respected (and that they have a right to them!), Then they are more likely to be able to "stop" even in the event of possible assaults. to say and get help.

So violence prevention clearly means not only promoting the ability to defend oneself against sexual assault in the narrower sense - the way to this ability leads through self-determination and preservation of personal boundaries in all areas of everyday life!

BIZEPS INFO: What do you offer in this area?

Elisabeth Udl: In the prevention area, Ninlil offers “empowerment seminars” for women with learning difficulties or multiple disabilities, as well as a “women empowerment group” for women who want to meet continuously.

Michael Neubauer: The women's empowerment group is a strong, self-determined women's group. It is for women who want to meet and exchange ideas with other women on a regular basis. I lead the group together with Angela Zwettler.

We meet every 14 days. The topics are different.

Big issues for women are e.g. driving services, which often come too early or late. Or in the living area, where there are often too many residents and too few carers.

We also talked about how we are perceived as women with disabilities in society. For a change, we sometimes do film evenings or disco. If the women want, they can also paint such as collages, mandalas and much more.

Elisabeth Udl: Our three principles for working in the empowerment area are:

  • Getting strong together with others
  • Say yourself what you want and need
  • Make decisions about your own life

BICEPS INFO: What other offers are there at Ninlil?

Elisabeth Udl: In addition to the empowerment offer, we also offer advice for women affected by violence and for caregivers of women affected by violence.

For caregivers, in addition to individual counseling, there is also the option of team counseling, where we advise residential or workshop teams who are confronted with a case of sexual violence, so that they can support the woman affected as well as possible. By the way, team counseling is an offer that is also aimed at “mixed” teams, so both women and men are advised.

BIZEPS INFO: Ninlil's offers are aimed at women with learning difficulties or multiple disabilities. Are there such offers for men too?

Elisabeth Udl: One thing is clear: both women and men are affected by abuse and violence in institutions. However, we as the Ninlil association direct our offers exclusively to women because it is particularly important to create a safe framework in which women can feel protected when it comes to the subject of “sexual violence”.

The experience of a women's room is valuable and strengthening for many women with learning difficulties, both in counseling and in empowerment seminars.

As far as I know, there is still no association in Austria that offers such offers for men. In Vienna we can refer you to the “men's counseling” for advice inquiries - unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no seminars or empowerment programs specifically for men with learning difficulties.

written by
Martin Ladstätter

"He is a founding member and chairman of BIZEPS, the first Austrian center for self-determined living. He is editorially responsible for the news service (BIZEPS) ..."

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