Adults with learning disabilities should be listened to more and given better education and support to deal with abuse, research has found.

The study, by the Unit for Development in Intellectual Disabilities (UDID) at the University of Glamorgan in partnership with RCT People First and New Pathways, found that people with learning disabilities are aware of different types of abuse but may not receive formal education regarding abuse and keeping safe.

In addition, the research found that support for people who have experienced abuse is not always available.

Professor Ruth Northway of the University of Glamorgan said: “Understandably when asked about abuse participants expressed a range of strong emotions including embarrassment, loss of self-confidence and anger. Most worryingly, however, some participants said how abuse can lead people to feel like taking their life as they feel their life is not worth living.

“We concluded that people with learning disabilities are aware of different types of abuse but may not receive formal education regarding abuse and keeping safe. Such education is important if people are to protect themselves from abuse and, should they experience abuse, that they are confident to disclose this to someone.

“If people are abused, then it is important that they receive appropriate, acceptable and timely support and participants particularly identified the need for others to be there for people who have been abused and for others to believe them if they disclose abuse. Unfortunately the wider literature and discussion amongst the research team suggested that such supports are not always available.”

In terms of the strategies to keep people safe from abuse that would be most helpful, the majority of participants favoured those they could do for themselves rather than those that required other people to assist, although all strategies were rated highly.

When asked what support people need when they have been abused the highest ratings were given to people being there for them, being believed and having support to live their life. The research team noted that while these strategies were felt to be helpful the reality of people’s lives is that they are not always listened to and believed.

The research is the first of its kind in the UK to be undertaken by people with learning disabilities about the abuse of people with learning disabilities. Over the 3-year duration of the project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, more than 100 people took part in the research, which included a three-day residential session. Participants were encouraged to discuss what they understood by abuse, what society should be doing to protect them and what support people need if they are abused.

“This research is innovative as it was people with learning disabilities who identified the area where they felt research was needed,” said Northway. “They then worked with a university department to undertake a piece of substantial academic research. Throughout the process people with learning disabilities worked as researchers, were involved in all key decisions, and in many instances they were the decision makers.”

A number of studies have been carried out in recent years into the occurrences of abuse suffered by this group, but never before has the research been proposed, carried out and disseminated by people with learning disabilities themselves.

Data was gathered from people with learning disabilities in Wales by means of individual interviews, focus groups and questionnaires.