When I was growing up in Corbeau Town and attending Exhibition Class at Tranquillity with Mr Moore, who used to send you home on Friday evening with a note to your mother about your homework, and on Monday would ask you sneeringly, “Did your mother say OK? Because if she didn’t, is KO for you,” and he would shake the piece of tamarind rod in his hand threateningly in your face. There was a mentally retarded girl (that’s what we used to say, none of this confusing mentally challenged business) in the neighbourhood who the older boys used to take into one of the alleys in Woodbrook. I once passed by, saw the group surrounding her about halfway into the alley (something exciting was going on from the comments), approached and promptly got a good cut tail from one of the boys, who will remain unnamed, for farseness. The alleys are now blocked up but the memories of that retarded girl, always with a vacuous smile on her face whenever she saw one of us, remains with me to this day. I suppose this is what love meant to her, sexual violence from a group of horny adolescents.
This violence was not unique to Woodbrook in the fifties. A new study published last week claims that one in four children with disabilities experiences some form of violence during their lifetime. In the report, published in The Lancet, researchers from the United Kingdom say that the risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect for these children is nearly four times greater than for children who are not disabled. For the study, the investigators examined 17 previous studies involving more than 18,000 children from the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Israel. Most of the children were between the ages of two and 18 years at the time the act occurred. Children with mental or intellectual disabilities were at greater risk for sexual abuse than children with other types of disabilities and the impact of a child’s disability on their quality of life was very much dependent on the way other individuals treated them. Yes, we saw that. The authors of the study went on to suggest that it is the duty of government and civil society to ensure that such victimisation is exposed and prevented.
Oh? Should we let Verna know? Don’t think she needs that. Perhaps that question is better directed to her boss who fired her for reasons unknown to those of us who work with the disabled, the abused or the ill. The same week came news that middle-aged women who had been physically abused as children are significantly more likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes than other women. This is the first study to link childhood physical abuse to the development of the metabolic syndrome (fat people with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal blood fat and who are at risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes, in other words half of Trinidad), in middle-aged women. This doesn’t mean that the women who have heart disease and diabetes today in T&T were all abused as children, but that a woman who is abused as a child is at risk for having heart attacks and sugar later on in her life. We are increasingly seeing this type of long-term study that relates events in childhood to adult disease and this study showed that childhood abuse can have long-lasting consequences, even decades later, on women’s health. It is an important study, if the results are corroborated, because it correlates psychological abuse with physical illness over many years.
Women who suffered child abuse were two times more likely to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a larger waistline (the politically correct term for “mature woman”) and poor cholesterol levels, suggesting that physi- cal abuse is a unique factor when predicting women’s cardiovascular health. Fortunately, there was no evidence to link emotional or sexual abuse to metabolic syndrome in middle-aged women. Of all the individual components of the metabolic syndrome, physical abuse was particularly associated with larger waist circumference and fasting glucose, both of which are strong predictors of type 2 diabetes. What’s the explanation for this? No one knows as yet. One of the authors postulates that it’s possible that women with histories of physical abuse engage in unhealthy eating behaviours or have poor stress regulation. Perhaps these children simply eat to become fat to get away from their abusers. It’s apparent however that psychology plays a role in physical health even when we’re talking about traumatic incidents that happened when these women were children. I wonder what has happened to that young mentally retarded girl. Is she alive? Has HIV or drugs taken her? Or, despite the evidence, is she is now a fat old retarded woman with diabetes and high blood pressure, dreaming of a time when she was young and attractive and surrounded by eager testosterone-filled suitors?