By Emma Elshaw
I had the opportunity to interview Chantal Huinink, Coordinator of Organizational and Spiritual Life at Christian Horizons, Dr. Neil Cudney, President of Emmanuel Bible College, as well as Holly Lobbezoo, Office Manager and Program Facilitator at Dramaway, for the following two-part blog post. We are thankful for their input into this important topic.
When it comes to human trafficking, we know, sadly, that traffickers will take advantage of the vulnerabilities of those they seek to exploit. For those experiencing a disability, there can be a number of vulnerabilities they have in living out their daily lives. This can cause them to be susceptible to the luring tactics of traffickers seeking to exploit them. Statistically, a person with a disability is four times more likely to experience violent or sexual crimes, which includes traffficking. This, of course, is data from reports, and as with other trafficking situations, the number is likely higher when one factors in the non-reported cases as well.
Although any vulnerable person is at risk of being trafficked, those experiencing a disability may be at more of a risk for several reasons. Today, we will look at two of those reasons.
Someone experiencing a disability may require a caregiver to help them meet their basic needs. Because of this dependency, a caregiver may exploit them and force them into a trafficking situation. Although the caregiver may not be the trafficker, the person experiencing a disability has a learned experience of dependency on the caregiver, developing a level of trust and a learned response to comply with others’ wishes, which creates a normalized unequal power dynamic in the relationship. This dependency can stretch even further, relying on the caregiver to support not only the physical needs, but the emotional and mental needs as well. Statistically, those with an intellectual disability are typically exploited by people they know like a caregiver or a neighbour, due to the learned trust and compliance.
Furthermore, for some, because of their dependency on a caregiver to meet their basic needs, those experiencing a disability “may not get the care they need if they report incidences of abuse and exploitation,” says Chantal Huinink, Coordinator of Organizational and Spiritual Life at Christian Horizons, a non-profit organization that works with people experiencing disabilities.
Many people experiencing a disability have few social ties. They may live alone or in a residential setting that sees many people come and go, without the consistency and connection of family and friends. Due to this isolation, they may crave friendship and a relationship of any kind - just to have some kind of connection with anyone. This is why it is incredibly important for those experiencing a disability to be tied into a community, whether through a faith-based group or a program designed specifically for those with disabilities. This can create safeguards for those with disabilities, to no longer be isolated but rather to have friends and people with whom they can share important things and seek advice.
In addition, due to their isolation, many people experiencing a disability have a lack of sex education, which may cause them to be “unaware of their right to object or reject unwanted touching.” Chantal Huinink also notes that a lot of people with disabilities don’t experience a sexual relationship, so they may look for one in places where others would avoid. Dr. Neil Cudney, President of Emmanuel Bible College, points out that “barriers that would naturally be there for others may not be there for those experiencing a disability because they are so used to people being intrusive.” He adds that, though it may come from a good place of wanting to belong and have friends, and wanting those connections, it may lead to exploitation.
As you can see, dependency and isolation are key factors that create vulnerability amongst those who experience a disability. Next week, we will look at two other factors that may be involved in causing those with a disability to be more at risk of exploitation.