Intellectual Disability, Sexual Assault, and Empowerment
Girls and women with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome, have a shockingly high rate of rape and sexual assault—12 times the rate of persons without disabilities. The perpetrators are often caretakers, who repeatedly violate them. Empowerment is a better framework than autonomy to address this crisis. A conception of autonomy common in healthcare is individualistic and stresses rationality. It may disempower those deemed not competent to make autonomous decisions. By contrast, empowerment calls for changes that are nuanced, political, and far-reaching. An individual is empowered when some or all of the following occur: (a) one is involved in long-term projects (b) which make one feel energized and more confident in one’s ability to make changes in one’s life or society, (c) while developing traits and capacities which help one to shape one’s life, (d) often while being supported by—and supporting—others in a group or community effort with which one identifies, (e) thus enhancing one’s particular skills, relationships, self-concept, and long-term well-being. Empowerment involves (f) seeking changes in laws, institutional policies, and the attitudes and behavior of other people. Here, the aim is transitioning to a more inclusive, caring and just society that values the “person first.”
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