The TIME story links to a Human Rights Watch report, Include Women, Girls With Disabilities in Anti-Violence Efforts. According to TIME, this report shows that “Women with disabilities are three times as likely to be raped, physically abused or sexually assaulted,” but are “often ignored when it comes to prevention programs.” This gives reader no context to determine the group to which these women’s experiences are being compared.
The reports on which this article is based reveal a different story than its inference that among the disabled, women are uniquely victimized and face unique discrimination. The story goes on to report that these women are often excluded from violence prevention programs, inferring again that gender is part of the basis for exclusion. However, getting the information behind the claim required some digging. The “Include Women” article links to other articles and quick-reference fact sheets, which selectively present information garnered from research reports, rather than linking to the reports themselves.
The assertion is originally stated in the Human Rights Watch report, which links to various references, not all of which are actually related to that claim. Among these is at least one which contradicted it: Submission on the combined eighth and ninth periodic report of Ecuador to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, February 19, 2015, describes concerns regarding mentally disabled women’s access to abortion services in Equador.
This report states three exceptions to Ecuador’s laws banning abortion. The third one is “when the pregnancy is the result of a rape or statutory rape of a woman with an intellectual or psychosocial disability.” The report does not show discrimination specifically against disabled women in this area but details concern that exceptions aren’t being made for them according to the law. The claim is linked to another report, INFORME SOMBRA al COMITÉ de la CEDAW E cuador 2014. I used Google’s translator to search the report for the source of the claim. The translation is rough but good enough to get the gist of what is being said:
Regulatory Framework in Ecuadorian Health System
In Ecuador abortion is legal on two grounds: for protect the health and lives of women and in the case of the rape of a woman with mental disabilities; to Despite these conditions of legality, do not exist in the protocols and clinical guidelines to ensure the country women’s access to safe abortion.
In other words, facilities aren’t excluding disabled women from care because they’re disabled, or women. Lack of government protocol is preventing them from creating programs uniquely designed to serve these women. The report goes on to state that not having specific protocols in place creates the risk of prosecution for physicians, leading to the risk that physicians will be afraid to perform abortions even when the law permits.
This does not support the claim that women are excluded from violence prevention services. It’s a statement pointing out a lack of a service exclusively for women, not a service offered to men but denied to women. It highlights a circumstance created not by discrimination but by government ineptitude. A law designed to accommodate disabled women is not being properly followed due to lack of government protocol.
It’s also consistent with the information included in other reports this submission cites. It is most often not that programs exclude women or discriminate against them, but that laws in place to help them aren’t properly implemented due to lack of working protocol. While this is a problem, it doesn’t back the claim made in the Human Watch report or Time’s article that female victims of violence are ignored in violence prevention programs. In fact, it contradicts it by showing how workers in these programs are fighting to remedy a condition which impacts only female victims: clouded legal environments surrounding abortion services, a service provided exclusively to women, and in the case of justification by sexual victimization, exclusively to those with disabilities.
Continuing to dig through the links, I opened another link from the Human Rights Watch report: Sudan: Mass Rape by Army in Darfur. This article discusses rape as a war weapon as if it is used strictly against women. It quotes from a report which focused on female victims of an attack on Darfur, to the exclusion of male victims, whose experiences are only briefly mentioned and not fully described. As IRIN ( Integrated Regional Information Networks, a humanitarian news agency covering sub-Saharan Africa) reports in HEALTH: Rape as a “weapon of war” against men, sexual violence is used as a weapon against men in South African conflicts, as well. IRIN reports that such violence is under-reported and poorly addressed due to lack of services. While this does not detract from the seriousness of the issue exposed in the Human Rights Watch report, it does once again contradict the inference that women uniquely ignored. In fact, another Human Rights Watch story linked in the first contains the following paragraph:
During a five-day research trip in November 2014, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 42 refugees in South Sudan’s Maban County, and six internally displaced people inside Blue Nile state. The refugees, including 17 women and girls, had recently fled abusive treatment in government towns or villages.
The story goes on to state, “Almost half of the refugees said they had experienced sexual violence themselves, have an immediate family member or neighbor who had, or had witnessed sexual assaults.”
Given a group of refugees in which a majority (25 out of 42, or approximately 60%) were male, Human Rights Watch chose to single out the women and girls, and then in their report failed to state the gender of the sexual violence victims. Further examination of the organization’s publications suggests that the researchers are only asking women and girls about their experiences, thereby excluding information on male victims from their research and reports. However, if that were entirely the case there would have been no reason for the report to mention the male refugees. That they are mentioned suggests that at least some of the refugees recounting experiences with sexual assault were male, and their information was simply not detailed in the report. The information provided is not sufficient to either eliminate or confirm that possibility.
While the organization may have reasons for exclusive reporting on female victims, information gathered with that intention contains a bias that makes it useless as a measure indicating that female victims are excluded from anything. In fact, such exclusive reporting by a human rights organization indicates that if anyone is uniquely ignored in this area, it is male victims.
The links included on Human Rights Watch’s Sexual Violence page referred to in the Include Women article reveal a similar pattern: Continual self-reference and reporting limited to women’s experiences. These are women’s issues articles and reports, not reports which use comparison to show that women are uniquely abused or uniquely excluded from services. Rather than supporting that claim, the research instead provides yet another example of selective presentation of information by media and organizations with feminist or social justice ideological leanings to infer discriminatory conditions the information does not support.
Many of the links lead to information gathered or presented with an exclusive focus on women and girls, even when information on abuse of men and boys is readily available. For instance, the word “institutions” is linked to an article, yet another instance of self-reference, which describes the findings of Human Rights Watch research which only looked into abuses at institutions serving women with intellectual or psychological disabilities.
Human Rights Watch presents India’s mental health care environment as if involuntary admission to an institution by one’s family is legal to do to women, only to women, and without health reasons. However, the Mental Health Act of 1987, part II, section 19, Admission Under Special Circumstances states that “Any mentally ill person who does not, or is unable to, express his willingness for admission as a voluntary patient, may be admitted and kept as an in-patient in a psychiatric nursing hospital or psychiatric nursing home on an application made in that behalf by a relative or a friend of the mentally ill persons if the medical officers-in-charge is satisfied that in the interest of the mentally ill persons it is necessary so to do.” The wording itself indicates that this is not limited to women, or legal to do without medical reasons.
In another article on this topic, Human Rights Watch admits that “men and boys with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities also face abuses,” but excuses ignoring their plight using the claim that women and girls “are particularly marginalized because of their gender and are especially vulnerable to unique forms of neglect and abuse.” This is an example of backing one claim, the inference that women are uniquely victimized, with another, the claim that being female makes women more vulnerable to victimization. It also leads to circular reasoning, as evidence presented for the belief that women are uniquely vulnerable usually involves the claim that women are uniquely victimized.
Later in the “Include Women” article, Human Rights Watch refers to more of its own research, this time a report on HIV and people with disabilities. The second quote in the summary is from a man describing a difficulty in receiving treatment which he has experienced due to his disability.
The problem is that deaf people have no detailed information on AIDS. We can go to the hospital but there is no sign language…The deaf do not know about adherence to medication and it can be a killer.
—Franklyn C., a Zambian man who is deaf and has received training to be a counselor for HIV testing and counseling, Kitwe, January 2014
Apparently because he is male, the organization does not attribute failure to accommodate his needs as a response to his gender. The report contained multiple examples of men and boys whose access to HIV services was limited due to their disabilities. The report indicates that disabled individuals of both sexes commonly experience difficulty with access, not that said difficulty is a female problem. The listed causes of reduced access are inadequate training of healthcare workers, lack of access to condoms and education on how to use them, lack of access to informational materials which accommodate various disabilities, stigma associated with disability, obstacles to testing and treatment, and lack of support for treatment adherence. These are all causes which would impact the individual based on disability, not gender. Knowing this does not detract from women’s experiences or the need to provide better access to services. It simply means that the same is true of men.
Despite this, the authors of the HIV report included statements claiming that women and girls are at greater disadvantage because they lack “equal access to information about gender-based violence, HIV prevention and social protection services.” The report does not explain any ways in which men and boys with disabilities have greater access to these services than women and girls. This is because, according to the source cited in it for that claim, no research was done on male victims. Once again, the assertion that women are uniquely vulnerable relies on research which only reports on female victims because only female experiences were examined.
Compare this to studies which have examined both genders in various populations. In a survey done in Nigeria, Factors Influencing Gender Based Violence among Men and Women in Selected States in Nigeria, approximately 44% of respondents reporting domestic violence were men. This is consistent with reports from western nations such as the United States, where research shows that over half of domestic violence is bi-directional, meaning both partners are violent toward each other. And according to Zambian Minister of Gender Inonge Wina, domestic violence victimization in Zambia is not limited to women and girls.
What about access to health care and violence prevention services? Male victims of sexual and gender based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo face significant barriers, including some of the same ones mentioned as barriers faced by the disabled. According to the report, Sexual and gender based violence against men in the Democratic Republic of Congo: effects on survivors, their families and the community,
There were several issues associated with accessing needed health care services for male survivors. These included shame, fear of loss of confidentiality in disclosing SGBV to health care providers, lack of financial resources to pay for care and medications, limited capacity of health care providers to care for male survivors of sexual assault, and limited supplies in the local village health centers and hospitals to provide needed treatment, such as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
The survivors, family and stakeholders stated that the health care and treatment services survivors received only addressed the physical needs of the male survivors. None of the male survivors reported receiving individual or family counseling, or family mediation for reintegrating husbands and wives as well as families. Additionally, participants reported that they do not have access to ongoing health care services for their physical and/or mental health needs in their villages. The health infrastructure in rural DRC lacks basic resources as confirmed by the service providers in all the village health centers.
Human Rights Watch, and by extension TIME, has used exclusive focus on female abuse victims as support for the claim that disabled female abuse victims are ignored in minority-populated countries. This is a gross but not surprising display of hypocrisy and racism.
Their method consists of limiting their examination of the topic to minority women’s experiences and minority women’s outcomes. They then treat the information garnered as an indication that women’s experiences are unique and the outcomes are a result of gender discrimination. The assertions are then released to the media, whose reports are read by laymen who will presume them true without further investigation. The lack of evidence is buried under discussion about unfamiliar cultures and a card-house of biased research and self-referral. Because the general public does not have the tendency to examine these articles for truth, this type of reporting leads to unproved assertions becoming common beliefs. That, in turn, garners support for funding for programs run by the organizations doing the research.
In other words, the organization appears to be marginalizing and demonizing brown-skinned men as batterers and rapists to exploit minority female victim status for profit.
If you like what you read here, please consider becoming Hannah Wallen’s patron. The Brigade runs on donations by readers like you.
Latest posts by Hannah Wallen (see all)
- Accountability is totally gay! – HBR Talk 25 - February 15, 2018
- Speaking of accountability – court stuff! | HBR Talk 24 - February 8, 2018
- Suffragettes can’t save feminism - February 6, 2018