Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

New film highlights barriers women with learning disabilities face when reporting sexual violence

A new film, Us Too: Alisha’s Story, highlights the experiences of women with learning disabilities when reporting sexual violence.

The film, which was released by Open Clasp Theatre Company and co-created with women with learning disabilities who have experienced domestic abuse, depicts the difficulties that Alisha faced when reporting an incident of sexual assault – difficulties which many women with learning disabilities face.

Research shows that people with learning disabilities are at increased risk of sexual assault, but when they report such crimes to the police, their reports are less likely to result in conviction.

Durham University, with Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland, and Northumbria Police, also found that the criminal justice system creates barriers to justice for people with learning disabilities or autism when reporting rape and sexual assault.

Film aims to help women and girls in similar situations to get the support they need

Alisha is played by Holly Wilkinson, who is autistic and a brain injury survivor. Alisha hopes the film will help other women and girls in similar situations, as well as improving disability representation.

She said: “I responded to the casting call for disabled actors because I don’t think that there is enough representation of disabled performers within the acting industry, which is something that really needs to change in my view. Performers with disabilities need to be seen and heard!

“Meeting the women from the ARC #UsToo group was powerful and very emotional; they should be applauded for their courage and resilience in the face of massive injustice and adversity. They raised their voices and made themselves heard through the power of theatre and film. It is really exciting to be a part of this journey and really humbling to think that this film will go on to help other women and girls in similar situations.”

Developing inclusive criminal justice responses to sexual violence

Us Too: Alisha’s Story was co-created to effect change and to develop inclusive criminal justice responses to sexual violence. The film will be used in an Economic and Social Research Council (ESCR) funded project to develop criminal justice practice in Durham in 2023.

It was written by Julie Tsang, an award-winning writer, a recipient of the John Mather Trust Rising Star Award with the National Theatre of Scotland and won Scotland’s Short Play Award.

Director Katja Roberts is Creative Director of the award-winning Meerkat Films, who have collaborated with Open Clasp on theatre to film projects including Sugar for BBC iPlayer.

Describing the film, Ms Roberts said: “It’s emotional. It makes you rage but also, I just feel huge admiration for the women, the way it was combined by Julie (the writer) into a singular voice, a collective story told in such a powerful way and for Holly (the actor) to carry it. I have hope and excitement about what change it’s going to bring.”

You can view ‘Us Too: Alisha’s Story’ online until 10th December, with tickets starting from £1. Recommended age: 13+ British Sign Language and subtitles available.

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