Validation as Prevention for Women with Disabilities
by Maria Barile
For survivors of violence, having their experiences denied by peers and others is a cruel and traumatic form of invalidation. One way to prevent violence is to stop denying that it happens. When the survivors are members of oppressed groups such as women with physical, intellectual, and/or psychiatric disabilities, women of color, older women, or women from minority ethnic backgrounds, their experiences tend to be invalidated by denial more often.
This social denial creates a cycle of silence, which in turn enables aggressors to continue perpetrating violence against women with disabilities. The cycle is fed by myths about women with disabilities which support trends in behavior toward us, which in turn reinforce the myths. It goes like this:
Myth: Women with disabilities do not experience violence.
Facts: This myth is reinforced every time anyone discussing women's issues refers to women with disabilities as people with disabilities, or as "the disabled," thereby rendering women with disabilities invisible.
Trend: Rendering women with disabilities invisible also renders their life experience invisible.
Myth: The problems/issues of women with disabilities do not exist, so no solution is required.
Facts: Society continues to support two predominant stereotypes of women with disabilities: that they are a) happy, humble, and accepting of all that objectifies them, or b) embittered, blaming everyone for their situation and lashing out indiscriminately.
Trend: Whatever women with disabilities say is doubted and placed under scrutiny by both the general public and legal authorities.
Myth: Those who abuse women with disabilities do so unintentionally, or because they are tired and over-worked.
Facts: Women with disabilities are often physically as well as economically dependent upon their aggressors. In many cases, aggressors are people paid by state institutions (personal/home care attendants, audiologists, doctors, transit drivers, etc.). These institutions have a vested interest in protecting their "good name" and often make it difficult for women to disclose what has happened to them by saying "It was just an isolated incident" or by finding other excuses.
Trend: Protection of the aggressor by the system robs women with disabilities of their credibility and dignity, both individually and collectively.