This edition of Inspired has struck a chord with me, far beyond what I had imagined when I first made contact with Ariana Garcia through social media. In bringing her story to you, I make no apologies for the seriousness of my words of introduction. In days gone by, issues such as family and domestic violence have been subjects usually off limits in public forums, previously reserved for hushed conversations, for making excuses, and of victims experiencing isolation and suffering in private.
Not so in recent times, when these matters long overdue for exposure have given us all an opportunity to re-evaluate our responses to sexual violence and harassment. At a time when the world is coming to grips with the #metoo movement, a time when campaigns and conversations are being encouraged to “change the story” to combat gender inequality, toxic masculinity, misogyny and homophobia, I am so frustrated and angry to know the following is true in Australia;
On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
1 in 3 Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
1 in 5 Australian women has experienced sexual violence.
It saddens me to know that alongside those figures, women with a disability continue to be among the most vulnerable in our communities.
Did you know that women with a disability are forty percent (40%) more likely to experience domestic violence that their non-disabled counterparts, and that the rates of sexual violence against women with disabilities are 4 to 10 times that of those without disabilities?
To our national shame, nine in 10 women with an intellectual disability have been sexually abused.
I have my own #metoo story, and I personally work hard to be part of cultural change and to build a more inclusive and welcoming community where everyone has a place. Those who are most vulnerable have a right to access the range of services and supports in our community without limitations, and in doing so, will be less isolated, more connected to people who care and as a result safer.
I hope that Ariana’s own story of hope and resilience, will give rise to all of us standing up and being champions for change. A symphony of voices that demand change, to create a world where all people can feel safe and live free from all forms of violence.
For sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service call 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 for 24/7 phone and online services https://www.1800respect.org.au/
Tell us about yourself
I’m Ariana Garcia, I’m Mexican and I am 31 years old
What has been your journey of disability?
Four years ago, I had a toxic relationship with my boyfriend. I suffered physical and verbal abuse. Everybody said I must leave him, but I didn’t. One night, during a discussion, he pushed me, and I fell from the balcony. Due to the shock, I don’t remember what happened, but it happened, and I can’t change the situation. I broke my spine and had 3 surgeries; the final outcome resulted in my sustaining a spinal cord injury.
Doctors said they are not sure if I will walk again or not, I have never accepted that I will not walk again. I finished that relationship, and it was so hard to be alone, to not walk, to be in a bed for 4 months, to be in a wheelchair… but the worst and most difficult part was to know and to understand, that if I had left my boyfriend, this would not have never happened. Not only was my spine broken, but so was my heart, my life and my dreams too.
Time has passed, and I now have an online shop and a new life.
Are there things about you that people misunderstand because of your disability?
MY DISABILITY FILTERS BAD PEOPLE
Nobody wanted to date me, and I was so sad because of that. I was going to a psychiatrist because I needed help. I took pills for depression and anxiety. During those 3 years, I was growing like never before, I learned to love myself, to respect myself, to enjoy my life, to stop giving to all the wrong people.
I lost all my “friends,” I lost my work, and my life by the beach, but I gained so much more. I’m closer to my family, I met amazing people who I can call friends. I learned that my disability is a kind of filter for bad people, and now I feel as if only good and intelligent people come close to me.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I don’t have only one person; I’m always watching Instagram for to see what other people with disability can do.
Which three words would you use to describe yourself?
Funny, smart, lovely
What is one thing, experience or person you have had that completely changed your life?
My new boyfriend. He shows me that love does exist, and love can happen even if I’m disabled. I met him last February on the beach in Mexico.
Who or what has been the most significant influences on who you are today?
I think the answer to this is myself. I’m always trying to understand myself, to see my mistakes from the past, to pay attention to what I should change in my life for it to be everyday better.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
That I can swim very good, and that I’m always smiling.
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES CAN HAVE A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
For what are you most grateful today?
For being alive
With the support of my family, I’m getting better every day. I love to travel and have never stopped doing it.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
The only advice that I must pay attention to is about abuse from men, that I first should love myself, sometimes I think that if I didn’t make all the mistakes I had, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.
I accept all my past mistakes; it has made me who I am now.
Is there something that you would like people to know about you or about people with disability that they might not know?
I think is very important to tell the people about the spaces for disabled (like parking or elevators) we really need these for many reasons. It is so bad when people are parking in the space created for us. We can’t park easily park in the other places as we need the extra space, without it, it is almost impossible to open the door wide enough, or to put the chair between both cars.
Is there some piece of information or advice that you wish would like to share with other women, and women with disabilities?
We all have some talent. We are so much more than just our legs! I paint, I sing, I sell clothes and I learned to put eyelashes extensions… So, we can do many things!!!!
I want to tell all the women in the world that they don’t deserve bad words, bad treatment or physical abuse from their boyfriend. We are more than a girlfriend, more than a “doll” to do whatever they want. We are humans, we have feelings, we must have the freedom to do whatever makes us happy. With respect, love, and communication we can have the best relationship in the world! But please girls, if you are suffering from abuse, go away!
Don’t wait until something bad happens like what happened to me. Or worst, don’t wait until they kill you. I will never give up and I would like to help women to understand what “abuse” can do. I want to help all disabled people to see we are strong and help them to understand we can do whatever we want. We can have a beautiful life, full of happiness and love.