Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Silver Lining?

I know I post a lot of stories relating to the abuse and neglect of people with developmental disabilities on my blog. That’s only because there are a lot of them. As this story demonstrates, it doesn’t have to be that way. This comes out of California from the Amador Ledger Dispatch.

Stories of abuse highlight dangers for
developmentally disabled community

Tuesday, April 01, 2008
By Bethany Monk, Amador Ledger Dispatch

She said a prayer after he shoved her into the trunk of his car. When they finally got to the house, he locked her in a dark closet where she would bury her head into her arms and see the blood dripping from her body. She was 10 years old.

"I had anger for a long time," said Sherri Douglas, a member of the Consumer Abuse Awareness Team, following the team's presentation last week at the American Legion Hall in Martell. More than 65 people attended the March 26 event, sponsored by The Arc of Amador and Calaveras in Sutter Creek and San Andreas, and Operation Care in Jackson.

Douglas, who lives in Chico, and three other members of the team, shared their personal stories of abuse and survival with the audience and discussed ways to help stop it. After sharing their respective stories, each speaker showed a brief slide show of pictures of "our lives now," Douglas said, adding that she's not the same person she was during her years of abuse. After getting help, and working to recover from her abuser's actions, she decided to help others. Douglas works full-time for the Northern Regional Medical Center and the abuse prevention program in Redding "talking to consumers about their rights - teaching consumers how to say 'no.'"

Operation Care is a non-profit organization that provides domestic violence and sexual assault support services, and crisis intervention and education; the Arc of Amador and Calaveras provides support and services to people with developmental disabilities. This is the second time these two organizations have collaborated and sponsored this event. Their first event was held two years ago in the same location.

"Each of (the team members) has their own story of abuse," said Lynn Shield, executive director of Operation Care, in a brief interview during the presentation. Other members of the Consumer Abuse Awareness Team who spoke during the presentation include Rosie Johansen and Shelly Anderson, both of Redding, and Glen Pollock from Chico.

By sharing their stories, they can spread the word and help others. "They're human beings. Everyone should be treated with respect," Shield said. "These kinds of things are important," Shield said of the presentation. "It shows (people) that they're not alone ... if you are in an abusive situation, tell someone (you trust)."

Douglas echoed Shield during her presentation when she advised those in the audience to "keep on telling people until you find the the right person - until someone listens."

Abuse is not limited to physical, Shield said. There's verbal abuse, such as yelling and screaming and put-downs; there's emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and financial abuse, she said, "especially of someone with developmental disabilities," who often get taken advantage of in that area.

According to statistics provided by Operation Care, people with disabilities have a four in 10 higher risk of becoming a crime victim; nearly 50 million people in the U.S. have a disability.

Pollock told the audience that 80 percent of women and 54 percent of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted. Ninety-nine percent of those abusers are people whom the victims trust, like caregivers and family members, he added, noting that his data comes from writer and researcher Dave Hingsburger, who has written several books on the topic.

Abuse prevention education and resources are both a large part of The Arc's curriculum, said Peggy Cunningham, director of services at the Calaveras branch in San Andreas. Fifteen Arc members from the San Andreas location attended Wednesday's presentation in Jackson, Cunningham said, adding that they all found it very informative. Several members from the Arc of Amador in Sutter Creek also attended the event.

"The most important thing is education," she said during a phone interview Friday, noting that several speakers from the Calaveras Crisis Center have given presentations at The Arc to "teach people to have determination, and teach them about their rights."

It can be challenging to say "no" to something big like abuse, "unless you've been able to say 'no' to small things in the past," Shield said. Integrated into The Arc's curriculum on abuse prevention is teaching assertiveness and how to say "no" to smaller things, like "No, I don't want these peas."

Shield, who has worked with disabled people since 1969, said society's perceptions about people with disabilities have changed a lot in the past 10 years. "The public at large is becoming more aware" of people with disabilities, she said.

Operation Care, established in 1980, offers several services and resources for men and women who have been abused or sexually assaulted. The 24-hour crisis number is 223-2600 or (800) 675-3392. To reach the main office, call 223-2897.

For more information about The Arc of Amador and Calaveras counties, call 267-5978.

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