Today, November 25th, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In recognition of this day, the United Nations is calling for action to address gender-based violence in the context of COVID-19.  Inclusion Canada would like to take the opportunity to share some of our concerns for the safety of women and girls with intellectual disabilities in 2020, and to provide an overview of some of the work we’ve been doing this year to advance their rights. 

Women experience higher than average rates of violence and so do people with intellectual disabilities. Women with intellectual disabilities are uniquely at risk. We know that one of the reasons that women with intellectual disabilities are targeted for assault is that they are considered less likely to report abuse, and less likely to be believed when they do report. This is why in 2020 we intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Slatter case.

The complainant in R v. Slatter was a young woman with an intellectual disability who reported sexual assault by a neighbour over a number of years. 

The trial judge believed her and convicted her abuser, however, the appeal court questioned if she was suggestible. At the Supreme Court, Inclusion Canada made the case that women with intellectual disabilities should not face extra hurdles and assessments of suggestibility that would never be applied to another witness.

The Supreme Court found that “over-reliance on generalities can perpetuate harmful myths and stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, which is inimical to the truth-seeking process, and creates additional barriers for those seeking access to justice.” The Supreme Court agreed that stereotypes about disabilities should not get in the way of justice!

In 2020, Inclusion Canada also advocated that new sexual assault training for judges should cover how myths and stereotypes about women with disabilities get in the way of justice. And, we took part in a federal government study that asked whether they should put in place a test of whether a person has capacity to consent to sex. We said that any test of capacity needs to uphold people with disabilities’ human rights guaranteed by law and Canada’s commitments under the UN CRPD. 

2020 has had some highs and some lows when it comes to eliminating violence against women and girls. As an organization, we’ve had some big wins, but COVID-19 has brought on some very real challenges for women and girls with intellectual disabilities across the country. Our work is not yet done. 

To learn more about how you can be involved, visit the UN’s website: Take action: 10 ways you can help end violence against women, even during a pandemic