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