The aim of the research was to investigate the social, cultural and institutional factors which contribute to the high incidence of sexual abuse of persons with disabilities in East Africa and to identify interventions which could change detrimental attitudes, beliefs and practices which perpetuate this high incidence. The research is framed within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD), particularly articles 12, 13 and 16.
The study used a qualitative participatory action research approach and worked with local partner organisations and Ugandan and Kenyan field level researchers to collect data. Survivors of sexual abuse were not interviewed but instead the research investigated the understandings, beliefs and practices of a range of service providers and key responders who are involved in the prevention of and response to sexual abuse against persons with disabilities in their communities. Groups consulted included police, teachers, health-care workers, government administrators, faith and community organisations and traditional leaders, as well as persons with disabilities and their parents. Participatory workshops were run with a reference group of people with disabilities (with a range of impairments and experiences) and relevant specialists at the initial stage and during the participatory analysis process. After initial orientation and training the field researchers undertook a total of 52 individual interviews and 9 focus group discussions with a range of stakeholders.
The overall findings show that social attitudes and understanding of disability and sexuality in general are strong influencing factors on the risks that persons with disability face in relation to sexual abuse. Participants reported a range of harmful attitudes and beliefs about disability and about the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. It is very common for cases of abuse to go unreported and to be dealt with at the family or community level, rather than being viewed as a serious criminal matter which should be taken to the formal authorities. Many barriers exist, especially at community level which mean abuse does not get reported. Lack of awareness and knowledge, stigma and exclusion and poverty were key drivers of continuing abuse and survivors of abuse seldom get proper support. Guidelines, training and clear procedures for good practice in the various professions were generally weak or absent. Key recommendations were generated for both community level interventions and in relation to policy and training at regional and national levels. The practical implementation of some recommendations was undertaken.