Going Beyond Disciplinary Boundaries: Responding to Child Victims with Intellectual Disabilities

By Catherine C. Stewart.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Children with intellectual disabilities are four times as likely to be sexually abused as other children (Sullivan & Knutson, 2000). Yet according to an interdisciplinary study, which interviewed victims, their families, prosecutors, police, therapists, and psychologists, most systems and professional groups are ill-prepared to deal with the complexity of such situations. The study found that a central impediment to an effective response is the degree to which the various systems, (as well as individual professionals) mandated to respond to abuse and children with disabilities, exist as a series of silos in terms of knowledge and expertise. This compartmentalization can result in an incomplete picture and consequently an inadequate or inappropriate response, sometimes with life-long consequences for the victims and their families. On the other hand, the study shows that barriers between disciplines can be traversed and that there is a benefit in doing so. As the paper points out, all systems and disciplines involved in the response to child sexual abuse are vulnerable to adherence, unconscious or not, to particular theories or value systems, which in the end may stand in the way of providing support and social justice to child sexual abuse victims. The fields of sexual abuse and developmental disability are both rife with mistaken beliefs and concepts, some of which have been dispelled and others which have persisted. In this paper, it is argued that interdisciplinary discourse and education, in which the victim survivor is included in the conversation, can play an important role in challenging hidden assumptions and systemic bias, and improving systemic effectiveness.

Keywords: Interdisciplinary Practice, Interagency, Children, Intellectual Disabilities, Child Sexual Abuse

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 3, Issue 10, pp.31-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 586.319KB).

Dr. Catherine C. Stewart

Assistant Professor, Contemporary Studies/Criminology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Catherine Stewart has worked in the area of children and women’s issues, throughout her career. She developed an award-winning child abuse prevention program that was internationally recognized. She has written extensively and some of her published works have been widely distributed. She has long been a strong advocate for children, particularly those with special needs. After completing an interdisciplinary Phd at the University of Toronto, she joined the criminology faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University where she specializes in victimology, and women, law and crime.


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