#MeToo Forgot About Disability

CW: Blog discusses sexual assault topically, specific assaults are not detailed.


Last week I had the pleasure of being on a call for the National Disability Leadership Organizer’s Forum and the speakers addressed a topic that, despite the recent spotlight, is being glossed over for people with disabilities: sexual assault.

Despite the explosion of the #MeToo movement and Joe Shapiro’s recent week long NPR series on sexual assault and people with disabilities which can be heard here, we haven’t had much (if any) space at the table to talk about our experiences and how disability factored into them.

For some, like me, sexual assault created disability. I take PTSD medication due to nightmares and night terrors as a result of continued sexual abuse as a child. I know others have similar stories.

For others, their disabilities put them in a place of vulnerability to someone who took advantage. They may have had a caregiver who sexually assaulted them or they were unable to escape from a threat.

A study recently released by the National Council on Disability highlights the lack of attention being paid in regard to sexual assault and people with disabilities on college campuses. The study was conducted after reports from the Association of American Colleges which note that the rate of undergraduate women who had been sexually assaulted was at 31.6% for women with disabilities versus 18.4% for women without. The report, Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities found that disability was largely overlooked at the colleges researched, which spanned 14 different states. Here are just a few of the ways disabled people were not included in policies and procedures:

  • Title IX websites and offices often had no mention of accommodations and were not partnered with colleges’ disability services
  • Trainings and information were not accessible
  • Communications were not readily available for people with disabilities that may need them if reporting a sexual assault.

An ongoing court case, Shank v. Carleton College, is addressing another side of sexual assault on college campuses. One claim regards ADA violations wherein a student was not accommodated for her PTSD caused by rape. The student’s requests, including the expulsion of her two rapists, a request to take classes remotely, and removal of classes from her record that had to be dropped immediately following the rape, were all denied.

Sexual assault happens to people with disabilities and creates disability for people, but our stories aren’t being heard. I support the #MeToo movement and hope that it continues to highlight the pervasiveness of sexual assault and the dangers of the rape culture we live in but the movement cannot be complete without including the voices of the disability community. We are disproportionately at risk for sexual violence on our bodies. Joe Shapiro’s recent series estimates people with intellectual disabilities experience sexual assault at rates seven times higher than the general population and the Bureau of Justice Statistics Report on Crime Against People with Disabilities says people with disabilities are twice as likely to experience sexual assault. We cannot talk about the ramifications and dangers of sexual assault in our culture and not include disabled people.

However, I think this is also part of a larger conversation regarding the sexuality of people with disabilities. And to be frank, it’s jacked. We hear story after story of the desexualizing or hypersexualizing of the bodies of the disabled. As a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder, there’s a common misconception that I am somehow a sexual minx, a slut, and we live in a culture that questions if a ‘slut can be raped’.

On the other end, and perhaps more commonly, society denies people with disabilities sexual autonomy. They remove sex from people with disabilities and collectively decide that people with disabilities are unable or unwilling to have sex lives. We lack adequate sex education and the privacy of sexual relations. People with disabilities are forced to have to get permission to be sexual beings.

Yet, when sexual actions are forced upon us there is question as to the validity of that assault or our stories are buried, considered too uncomfortable to be shared.

Isn’t this a crucial part of the #MeToo movement? Providing those voices and acknowledging those truths that have often but ignored or tucked away? How can that be the goal while silencing, omitting, and ignoring the stories of people with disabilities? It can’t. Sexual assault on the disabled body is still sexual assault – it affects #UsToo.  



Cantor, D. et al. (2015). The Association of American Universities accessed https://www.aau.edu/sites/default/files/%40%20Files/Climate%20Survey/AAU_Campus_Climate_Survey_12_14_15.pdf

Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities. National Council on Disability (2018). Accessed at  https://ncd.gov/sites/default/files/NCD_Not_on_the_Radar_Accessible.pdf

Harell, E. 2017. Bureau of Justice Statistics Report on Crimes Against People with Disabilities (2009-2015).Accessed at https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/capd0915st.pdf

Shank v. Carleton College, No. 0:2016cv01154 – Document 41 (D. Minn. 2017). Accessed at https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/minnesota/mndce/0:2016cv01154/155582/41/

Shapiro, J. (2018). Abused and Betrayed. NPR. Accessed at//www.npr.org/people/2101159/joseph-shapiro

A Convergence or a Fork in the Road

I have been going back and forth between writing a blog or leaving it be for some time now. I feel like I have things to say, but not necessarily anything that so many other people in the disability community and beyond aren’t also saying.

And then this week happened.

This week I have been exhausted. I have both ‘mental illness’ and chronic illness and both have been acting up.  A week ago I sat on my bed staring at a handful of pills I intended to swallow not because I was sad but because I am tired.  

Then I fought through this week to Wednesday where a young boy killed 17 people and every argument I see, on both sides, points to mental illness as the culprit. I see young people scared to go to school and people realizing that evacuation practices leave so many people with disabilities in danger.

Then I get to today, when the House has voted on H.R. 620 to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act creating notification requirements and waiting periods for people to make businesses accountable for their non compliance with the law.  On top of that my body is flaring and I am in so much pain it hurts to move.

And I think, now, I can’t not say things.  I am a person with significant mental illness who lives in near constant pain and exhaustion. I am a woman with disabilities who is an advocate by profession and a burgeoning activist.  I am a student of emergency management with hopes to change the way we keep people of all functions and abilities safe.

I am also a wife. A sister. Queer. Black. Hispanic. African-American. A million other things. I hope this will be a place to celebrate all of those while being truthful about the reality created by living within those intersections in our society.

It’s been a long week. I have a lot to say about it. I guess this will be the start.