Pioneering abuse study has people with learning difficulties at its heart


theweek120by150Ground-breaking new research has underlined the need for greater access to counselling for people with learning difficulties who have been abused.

The three-year, lottery-funded project was the first research into the abuse of people with learning difficulties to be carried out in the UK by people with learning difficulties.

The idea for the research was first proposed by a group of people with learning difficulties in 2003, but it took them until 2010 to secure the funding they needed.

The Looking into Abuse report that has come from that research, and was launched this week at the home of the National Assembly for Wales, in Cardiff, calls for greater investment in courses that educate people with learning difficulties about abuse, the law, and how to keep safe.

And it says that when people with learning difficulties disclose abuse, other people must “listen to them, believe them, act appropriately and provide support”.

Participants in the study all came from self-advocacy groups and had lower or moderate support needs.

More than 100 men and women took part in the research, which included individual interviews, questionnaires and a three-day residential session, where they were encouraged to discuss what they understood by abuse, what society should be doing to protect them, and what support they needed if they were abused.

The report says that discussing abuse gave rise to “strong feelings and anger, embarrassment and recurring negative thoughts”, while some participants said that it “can make people consider suicide”.

The report recommends further research into the relationship between suicidal feelings and abuse.

When asked what support people need when they have been abused, the highest ratings were given to “people being there for them, being believed and having support to live their life”.

The study concludes that people with learning difficulties “have a valuable role to play in developing, undertaking and disseminating research”.

The study was carried out by the Unit for Development in Intellectual Disabilities at the University of Glamorgan, RCT (Rhondda-Cynon-Taff) People First and New Pathways, a Welsh charity that provides counselling and advocacy for survivors of sexual abuse.

Three people with learning difficulties were employed to work part-time as co-researchers, each of them supported by a personal assistant and working alongside a full-time research assistant. More than half of the research advisory group had learning difficulties.

The study concludes: “From the research undertaken it can be concluded that people with learning disabilities, with the right support, are more than able to actively engage in all stages of the research process and bring to it a wealth of life experience lacking in many other researchers.”

6 March 2013