Letter: Abuse flourishes in silence

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Abuse flourishes in silence

Sir: Jo Brand (19 April) is not alone in regretting her inability to "whistleblow" when faced with abuse within a residential home for adults with learning disabilities. Here at Respond we provide therapy and counselling to a growing number of people who have been sexually abused in just such circumstances of silence and fear. The ability to whistleblow is reduced when faced with a pervasive culture of denial and disbelief that this level of exploitation can happen to those who rely on us for care and support.

Research from the University of Kent in 1992 concluded that the average annual number of people with learning disabilities being sexually abused is almost 1,000. This staggering figure makes more sense when one considers the extreme vulnerability of this section of society to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Many of the men and women we work with had been abused for years before their voices were finally heard. Sometimes it takes the bravery of a worker to bring the trauma to light. Sometimes it takes the desperate actions of the victim themselves.

Our legal system places victims of sexual abuse who have learning disabilities at a cruel disadvantage, with the majority of cases failing to reach court. Our work at Respond is concerned primarily with providing therapeutic justice to those whose experience of sexual abuse has been buried deep inside them.

Our work will become easier if, like Jo Brand, more people have the courage to bring the issue into the public arena. It combines many of society's taboos - sex, disability and abuse - and is thus rarely discussed, a situation that leaves victims of abuse further traumatised by our failure to believe.

ALAN CORBETT

Acting Clinical Director

Respond

London, NW1

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