Deborah Hunter always knew she was different. She communicated differently, she was having a hard time socially, and she didn’t understand why.
- According to a recent French survey, an estimated 9 out of 10 women with autism have experienced sexual assault.
- Autism Tasmania CEO says factors such as economic dependence have made women with autism more susceptible to abuse and coercive control
- Advocates seek support services to better understand autism
WARNING: This article contains references to domestic violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault.
“I thought it was some kind of inherent naivety. I just didn’t seem to get it right,” she said.
“Even when I tried to be a ‘good boy’ and act appropriately or as expected, I was forever getting things wrong.”
The mental and physical abuse started in Deborah’s family home, but she didn’t realize it was abuse.
“All I ever learned was that it was my fault. There were some dark flaws in me that I was always wrong about,” she said.
Deborah was forced to leave her family’s home at the age of 16 because she felt unsafe, but a string of relationships that followed solidified her that abuse was normal.
“I thought it was all my fault. I had no other information,” she said.
“They could tell me I was different. Unfortunately, I think being different attracts predators.”
It took Deborah a long time to come to terms with the fact that what she went through was abuse.
“I am a victim survivor. It started in my parents’ house and had a string of intimate partners until I decided to live the rest of my life alone.”
“Relief and disbelief” at the time of diagnosis
Deborah eventually sought psychological support and was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Until she got support for her past trauma from domestic violence, she didn’t know why she always felt different.
“After careful work with a clinical psychologist, she gently cracked it open to me and said, ‘Did you realize you had autism? I had no idea.
“It’s a shame it had to get to that point for me to know.”
Deborah experienced both relief and disbelief at her diagnosis.
“I didn’t fit the stereotypes in my head,” she said.
“But maybe it wasn’t my fault, and to find out I was wired differently… was like a weight lifted.”
Deborah hoped more people would notice the signs of autism in girls and women.
“It used to be said that boys were more likely to have autism than girls, but now it’s believed that’s not the case,” she said.
“Autistic girls are generally good at socializing and blending in. That’s how we survive, we imitate those around us and mask our own characteristics.
“If I had been diagnosed earlier, I would have known what my intimate partners were doing. I guess.”
“Knowing that you are not alone is always helpful.”
After her diagnosis, Deborah connected to a support group for women with autism.
“In an autistic peer group, this is absolutely essential because it’s the only place we can safely be ourselves.
“We can say what we want and be understood. We don’t have to worry about social cues or people misleading us.
“It always helps to realize that you are not alone.”
Deborah felt free to be herself and started living her life on her own terms.
“Autism is not sad. It’s really encouraging to know who you are.
“And what about realizing it’s never too late? That’s absolutely wonderful.”
Autistic women are more likely to be abused
Deborah is one of many women with autism who have experienced abuse.
A recent French study published by Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience found that 9 in 10 women with autism have experienced sexual violence and about 60% have experienced physical violence. Estimated.
Girls with autism were more likely to experience violence than girls of their age. I have.
The number of people with non-verbal autism who are abused is thought to be even higher, but is rarely reported.
Geraldine Robertson is an autistic woman who claims the problem is far more serious than many realize.
“You don’t read body language well, you get too close to people who are grumpy or brutal and you get into fights. That’s where the abuse comes from,” she said.
“People with autism don’t have the social networks that other people have, so they don’t have friends to say, ‘Hey, don’t hold back.’ am.
“We don’t want to blame the victims. It’s the abusers who seek out these women. But the sad reality continues that we also need to figure out how to keep them safe.”
Financial Dependence Makes Autistic Women Vulnerable
Geraldine said there are things people can do to help autistic women facing domestic violence situations.
“To be able to say to a woman, ‘This is unacceptable, no one should live like this’, and to be very frank, not insinuating.
“There are supports out there, but many people don’t know about them. People with autism will have even more trouble knowing where to go for support. Please help me find it.”
Donna Blanchard, CEO of Autism Tasmania, said there are many intersecting factors that make women with autism more vulnerable to abuse and coercive control.
“People with autism of all ages are more likely to be underemployed. Their financial dependence on their partners leaves them vulnerable,” she said.
“In Australia, a select Senate committee found people with autism [were] Most disadvantaged in our community.
“Social, community, economic — people are paying a price because services aren’t built for them. Unfortunately, women pay an even higher price.”
Donna said there are a few things that can help reduce the number of people with autism in abusive relationships.
“The most important thing is diagnosis. You have to remove barriers and help people understand who they are and how best to support them,” she said.
“Another part is that services don’t understand autism: health, the justice system, the child protection system, education, employment. We are just beginning to realize that we need to think differently about .
“There are some very simple adjustments that can be made to help these people, and the great news is that it’s starting to happen now.”