Disabled jittery over sex abuse risk
The nine-month-long disappearance of visually impaired university student Jasmine Deen and speculation that she might have been the victim of a sex predator has created anxiety in the blind community.
Deen, a student at The University of the West Indies, was last seen in Papine, St Andrew, around 9 p.m. on February 27. The police have not given a motive for her disappearance. She would have been 22 last Saturday.
Executive director of the Jamaica Society for the Blind, Conrad Harris, said other visually impaired persons have been taking extra precautions out of fear of being victimised.
“It has heightened that kind of anxiety, not that it wasn’t there before, but it wasn’t as strong,” he said.
Information and training officer at the Jamaica Society for the Blind, Kamika Braithwaite, said that persons with disabilities are a vulnerable group.
“I’ve had clients, since becoming blind, they have been sexually abused by their partners because they can’t see when they come into the room,” she told The Gleaner.
“You are literally going into a car, hoping you are OK. So persons are very nervous, especially up at UWI, so they don’t want to come out and take the taxis. They are afraid at nights, especially the impaired or blind.”
That is one of the issues that top the agenda today, December 3, which is commemorated as International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Superintendent of Police Dr Sheryl Burke said persons with disabilities are just as susceptible to sexual abuse as the rest of the population.
“The vulnerabilities are the same as the persons without disabilities, so we have seen cases of rape, we have seen cases of child sexual abuse.
“We have seen cases of it is unclear whether or not it was a situation of overpowering or abuse or whether or not there was a contractual relationship because the person had, maybe, a mental delay or an intellectual disadvantage,” Burke told The Gleaner.
RATES NOT ALARMING
However, Deputy Superintendent of Police Radcliffe Gordon, who works out of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, said that records did not validate claims that a high percentage of children with disabilities were being sexually abused.
“We do see a few, but it’s not an alarming rate, in terms of the overall numbers,” Gordon said at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Wednesday.
While not providing hard data, Gordon said he has seen a few cases from state childcare institutions.
Deputy registrar at the National Children’s Registry, Warren Thompson, noted that every child-abuse report indicates whether a child has a mental or physical disability.
“We rarely see cases of children with disabilities being reported with sexual-abuse issues ... . We mainly see cases of children with disabilities being reported for neglect,” Thompson said.
Gordon added that special provisions are made for a wide range of disabilities, in partnership with agencies and societies.
“We communicate with agencies such as the Jamaica Association for the deaf to provide us with interpretation services to take their statements. For children who have mental disabilities, we usually have assistance from the CPFSA officers, who really assess them to see their level of competence, in terms of giving that report,” he said.
CPFSA is the Child Protection and Family Services Agency.
Meanwhile, executive director at the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, Kimberley Sherlock Marriott Blake, said she has heard of anecdotal cases of persons being abused but did not personally know of victims.
The deaf, she said, are susceptible because sex abusers try to justify their overtures by claiming that the victim never verbalised dissent.
“If a deaf person doesn’t verbalise no, and the predator makes the assumption that ‘Well, the person never said no’, that kind of snide remark is often used,” Marriott Blake said.