People with disabilities are much more vulnerable to assault, especially sexual assault than their non-disabled peers.
Stats Don’t Lie
After all, consider these 2006 statistics from the Disabled Womens’ Network Ontario:
- The risk of sexual abuse of people with disabilities appears to be at least 150% of that of individuals of the same sex and similar age without disabilities.
- It is estimated that only 20% of sexual abuse cases involving disabled people are ever reported to the police, community service agencies, or other authorities.
And this one from L. Stimpson’s and M. Best’s “Courage Above All: Sexual Assault Againt Women with Disabilities”, 1991:
- 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.
“When I was Young and Foolish…
Before the stroke, I know I put myself in risky situations when there was no need.. I knew during university and college that I should use the Walkhome services, but I rarely did. At first I just couldn’t be bothered, but as the years progressed I really just didn’t want to feel like a victim. I told me friend Carol, “I’ve never been followed,”
“That you know of,” she said, and of course she was right. It still didn’t make me use the walkhome services any more frequently, though.
After my stroke, I did start to get some unwanted attention from men. From one man, it was scarily unwanted, and forced me to start thinking about things like, “How far would you go if you felt threatened? What’s your safety plan?”
He wasn’t dangerous. He had issues, yes, but when I finally got the guts to firmly set boundaries with him about how I didn’t want him near me, and didn’t want him trying to talk to me or call me, and that I’d get authorities involved if he did, he left me alone.
I think that some of the attention I get from men definitely comes from a personality type that sees the cane and thinks, “There’s someone that needs me to take of her.” But I can spot that dynamic forming pretty quickly, and politely put the brakes on it – I don’t need someone to take care of me, and the man who’s not willing to look at me as anything more than that is just going to be disappointed by me anyway. But honestly, I think that the reason I get more attention from men now has very little to do with my disability:
I walk with a confidence now. I don’t look down anymore.
I look people (even men!) in the eye and smile.
I’m less shy. I like talking to people.
Before the stroke…self-confidence didn’t come so easily. I know it’s strange that now, with a cane and disabilities, it has…but maybe I’ll talk about that another time.
In Light of Stats on Assault on People with Disabilities…
I’m much more careful than I used to be about being in public by myself, particularly at night. I’ve heard enough statistics about women with disabilities and assault (and women and assault in general) that I don’t want to become one of them. There’s making a point – and taking needless risk. I don’t like to think that I live in fear, but I really was scared by what happened with that guy, and it was very mild as these things go…but it took me a long time to feel safe again.
So, lesson learned. Safety first. Take appropriate precautions for yourselves out there, and teach the young people in your life to do the same, especially ones with disabilities.
Because the stats I quoted are disturbing on several levels:
What is it about a person with a disability that makes the probability of he/she getting assaulted so much higher? Is it a perception that they are more easily overpowered? Is it a lower level of respect for their humanity? Is there a (apparently correct perception) perception that they are less likely to “tell”, or easier to bully into not telling? When I hear that that Johnson and Sigler’s research in 2000 reported that as many as 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities are victims of sexual assault, it makes me think it’s a combination of all of them, and that’s just not acceptable.
Why aren’t people with disabilities who have been assaulted telling the authorities about it? Are people not taking them seriously? Are they being properly educated on what assault is? Do they value themselves enough to tell? Do they have enough information on what would happen to separate the scare tactic of an assaulter from what would really happen if they went to the police?
Again, not acceptable. But it’s the way life is right now. So we owe it to the people with disabilities in our lives to have these conversations abuse and assault so that they know exactly what they need to do if it happens to them. I’ve told youth that I’ve worked with to find one adult that they could trust to tell – a teacher, a parent, an adult, a worker – and that the adult would help them with the decisions from there. This approach won’t always work. But I believe that it works more often than not.
I got the statistics for this post from a sheet prepared by the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre: http://orcc.net/PDF/factsheets/Sexual-Assault-Statistics-FS.pdf