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’This type of violence is a failure of society’

Every time an already vulnerable person is violated, it’s a failure of society, says Maria Montefusco, project manager at the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues, when asked about the background of the Nordic project Gender-based Violence against People with Disabilities.

Maria Montefusco. Photo: Fredrik Sjögren NVC
 Maria Montefusco. Photo: Fredrik Sjögren NVC

Persons with norm-breaking functional capacity are victims of violence to a greater extent than other people, and the fact that authorities have little knowledge about the problem puts the victims in a particularly difficult situation. Due to their special vulnerability, the effects of the violence are often not the same as when the victim is a person with norm-conforming functional capacity, Montefusco points out.

Why is it important to address this issue in a Nordic context?
‘The research is scarce and there’re not many experts to consult, so we have a lot to gain from sharing experiences with each other. All Nordic countries are working with this issue, but in different ways. At this point it’s hard to say which approach works best.’

What differences do you see?
‘For example there is a difference in how vulnerable groups are made visible. Particularly in Sweden, vulnerable groups have long been given special recognition in the work against violence.

In Iceland, the issue of violence and disability has been debated intensely in the last two years and the Norwegians have inventoried and evaluated support services. In Denmark, authorities have a good understanding of which crisis centres are available. In Finland, one problem has been the variation in how municipalities have managed to create safe environments. At the turn of the year, the funding responsibility was transferred to the state, increasing the regional equality.’

What are the benefits of the gender perspective?
‘There are lots of benefits. We know a great deal about the violence against women, but the knowledge about violence against men with a disability is almost non-existent. There’s a risk that we fail to recognise the vulnerability of this group, and there are stereotypes and a lack of knowledge in for example law enforcement and the legal system.’

What are the challenges in dealing with this issue?
‘It’s a difficult topic. There’s a taboo surrounding it. This type of violence is a failure of society. It’s hard to come to grips with. The issue is perceived as very complex. We don’t really know what to do if we find out that a person with a disability has fallen victim to violence. Not everybody in the care sector is a potential perpetrator, but there’s a need for increased transparency and a discussion about the power position of those who work with these people in their home environments.’

Updated 2 May 2020