Situation: Taylor Winters is 42 and has moderate learning difficulties. She has no verbal communication but is able to type onto a computer. She lived with her mother, stepfather, sister and her sister’s two children. She was 33 when her stepfather first began raping her, something he continued to do for five years. She couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone for fear of the consequences. Her sister confided to her that he had been pestering her for sex, but didn’t force himself upon her.
Problem: Family members got together to convince Taylor to tell her mother. But her mother did not believe her, saying she was making it up so that her real dad could come home again. Suddenly the family turned against her, although at least the rapes stopped. Then two years later he raped her again. This time Taylor didn’t wash and with the help of a friend called the police. She was examined and interviewed over two days. Again with the help of friends, she moved into her own home, with home care support three times a day. She had always had it drummed into her that she couldn’t live alone. However, she misses her sister’s children – sometimes her mother only lets her see one of them once a month. The stepfather admitted having sex with Taylor this last time but said that she wanted him to. Recently he was found not guilty. Taylor doesn’t know what to do now.
The name of the service user has been changed.
I should imagine that Taylor feels frightened and very alone in the world. On at least two occasions she has been able to tell someone about what has happened to her, and on neither occasion has she been believed – first by her own mother, and second in a court of law. Both Taylor and her stepfather may now believe that he is free to resume raping her as and when he wishes (assuming he can gain access to her) as he will just say that she wanted him to have sex with her.
The message to Taylor is that she won’t be believed. It also seems that, as a result of her actions, all of the changes and losses have been incurred by Taylor herself: she has had to move out of the family home, lost contact with her siblings’ children, her family have turned against her, and all this has happened against a background of losing contact with her own father in the first place.
It would not be surprising if Taylor started to blame herself for what has happened, to begin to believe that somehow she must have done something wrong – possibly believing that the loss of her father, for whatever reason, was her fault. A referral to a counsellor or psychologist may help Taylor to come to terms with her experiences.
It is often very difficult to secure a rape conviction, for a variety of reasons. It is also well known that people with learning difficulties have very negative experiences at the hands of the criminal justice system, although this is now recognised and many agencies are working hard to change this. Closer working between specialist learning difficulties services and agencies such as Victim Support, as well as the police and criminal justice system, is needed to ensure that people with learning difficulties are treated with the same level of understanding and sensitivity as any other victim might expect.
It is important to build on the positive aspects of Taylor’s life. She does have a circle of friends, and is living independently. Statutory services should think about involving members of her social network in planning to rebuild her life, especially around regaining trust in others and rebuilding her self-confidence.
Taylor is entitled to referral to a team such as ours for a community care assessment. The police should have notified a duty worker of a possible vulnerable adult and requested an appropriate adult at interviews.
There are a number of issues that could be raised about Taylor and the children remaining in her mother’s home. Contact should be made with the children and families team, as well as adult services. The safety of the remaining children needs to be assured and Taylor’s access to her siblings and their children arranged. By opening up ties with social workers, legal advice, therapeutic and emotional support, and health advice on sexual matters can be sought.
In order for Taylor to be able to speak out and voice her views and needs, and to make sure that she understands her own rights, she will need advocacy and referral to an organisation such as Victim Support.
Taylor needs help to establish her own social network, and social workers, police, housing, health professionals and family members can co-operate to ensure Taylor’s views are heard.
Finally, she could well need help with housing. She may not feel safe in her own home and may still be vulnerable.
Within the Valuing People 2001 guidance, the right of an adult with learning difficulties is the same as that of any other citizen of the UK. Taylor has the right to legal representation, the right to be heard and the right to have family life free from abuse.
The social worker would have to discuss with Taylor her needs and make any referrals to agencies such as Victim Support, which could offer her specific support, with Taylor’s consent.
An advocate or self-advocacy group could assist Taylor to promote her own rights and how she chooses to live her own life, and the contact she has with her family.
Quite clearly, Taylor’s rights have been abused. It needs a variety of professionals and organisations from different disciplines to work closely together with Taylor to establish a safe environment to live in. Then, hopefully, she can begin to move on from this traumatic period and experience a more fulfilling life.
What happened to Taylor is really upsetting and frustrating, write Kathleen Franklin and Joanne Bowering. We know this sort of abuse often happens to women with learning difficulties. It’s so hard to tell when you are raped; you feel ashamed even though it’s not your fault.
What Taylor’s stepfather did is horrible and against the law. He knows it, which is probably why he said Taylor wanted him to have sex with her, instead of confessing to raping her. He probably figured because Taylor has learning difficulties and people have lots of wrong ideas about us he could convince people she was lying, didn’t know what sex is or that she wanted him to have sex with her.
Part of us feels sorry for Taylor’s mother: her husband abused her daughters. Yet another part of us is angry at Taylor’s mother for not believing Taylor. Parents are supposed to do their best to keep their kids safe. When they can’t keep us safe, they can at least believe us and help us when we do get hurt. Her mother’s idea that Taylor made up the rape stories to get her real dad back is patronising.
We have some advice for Taylor. First, it’s great that she is living on her own now, with what sounds like good support. We think she should have a telephone number her family doesn’t know and make sure they don’t have keys to her flat. If they do, she should have the locks changed. She should have a contact person with the police in case her stepfather threatens her and maybe even take out an injunction against him.
Second, we are very worried about these children still living with grandma and the stepfather. We know the stepfather hasn’t been accused of paedophilia, so we can’t assume he would hurt these children. But, we also know that he thinks it’s OK to have sex with his step-daughters. Grandma is not the best person to take care of the children if she doesn’t believe her own daughter when she has been raped so many times. These children should be taken out of the stepfather’s home and he should not be allowed near them.
Third, Taylor could get support from a self- advocacy and women’s group. She could also go to Voice UK or Victim Support.
Kathleen Franklin is chair and Joanne Bowering is women’s group co-ordinator of Milton Keynes People First, a self-advocacy group for people with learning difficulties.