In February I had the privilege of attending the 6th East African International Conference on Communication Disability, in Kenya. For those of you that been following our blog since we have been with BMS, you may remember my very first blog post was about attending the 4th Conference held in Uganda January 2012. So it felt good to still be part of what is going on 5 years later! I also got reunited with a student I was supervising in Zimbabwe who is now a full time therapist in Zambia.
The conference came at the right time as I was feeling frustrated with the slow progress of my therapy work here and i have been starting to lack motivation. The conference really boosted my enthusiasm and helped me to see again the value of SLT in this context. Sadly no other SLTs had travelled from Uganda so I am still trying to get a hold of what SLT looks like here in Uganda, unfortunately it appears not to be great shape.
The conference gave me lots of food for thought and it was inspiring to hear what was going on in different countries across Africa. One particularly eye opening lecture was given by a researcher from South Africa who is working with people who have suffered abuse. The statistics of sexual abuse across Africa are horrific by anyone’s standards. A report by Unicef Uganda showed that some 77.7 per cent of the primary school children and 82 per cent of the secondary school students surveyed reported having experienced sexual abuse at school.
During the lecture the following statistics are for women who have a disability (if you would like the references let me know)
- they have a 4 to 10 times higher risk of becoming crime victims
- have a high probability of repeat victimisation
- 50% of women with developmental disabilities who had been sexually assaulted had been assaulted 10 or more times.
- the type of violence tends to be more severe, appears to consist of multiple different forms and also appears to have longer duration leading to higher trauma than for once-off events
- Children with disabilities more than twice as likely as children without disabilities to be physically and sexually abused
Well the perfect victim is a silent victim, and so people with communication difficulties are even more likely to suffer abuse as the perpetrators aren’t worried about their victim telling anyone. The perpetrators are also more likely to be known by the victim.
This is where Speech and Language Therapy is making a real difference. The Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication in Pretoria, South Africa has developed communication boards for individuals who may have been a victim of abuse.These boards are age appropriate and picture based so that people who are not literate can still report abuse. They are also designed so that individuals with limited vocabulary or individuals who cannot speak at all can use the boards by using their finger to point with or even reliable eye-gaze in the case of those individuals who are severely physically disabled.
The boards have been translated into 17 different languages and I am hoping we can get them translated into Acholi too.
Disclosure is just the first step but a vital one. Sexual and gender based violence is a key area for BMS and for BMS in Gulu so please pray that as a team here we find the right way to help give a voice to those who need it most.