You’ve seen this, right? The “me too” campaign going on right now in social media? If you’ve been sexually harassed, you’re to put “me too” as your status update or tweet to give people an idea of how widespread this problem is.
I hate him, I really hate him. He’s gross and disgusting and repulsive and there’s no way he should be in the influential position that he’s in, when he treats women this way.
Guess what–not just talking about Harvey Weinstein. That also applies to our current President and many others in our society. Roger Ailes (ok, I know, he’s dead, but he died a rich man). Ben Affleck. Casey Affleck. Many, many NFL, MLB and NBA players. Roman Polanski.
I could go on….and on and on and on.
And when it’s a Woody Allen or a Bill Cosby, it’s easy to blow it off. “It can’t/won’t happen to me, I’ll never be in the same circles as those people.”
But guess what–a female with disabilities, especially with a mental health issue or cognitive disability….
Wait for this, sit down.
From the Arc:
Other studies suggest that 49 percent of people with intellectual disability will experience 10 or more sexually abusive incidents (Sobsey & Doe, 1991).
Think about that. Ten incidents over their lifetime. Ten.
So yeah, when my mind was prompted to think if I qualified for a “me too,” my mind went back to a younger me. A less confident me. Kinda wish I could encounter those guys now, all these years later. I don’t for a moment believe that I have not experienced this because I’m older, it’s because I’m no longer in the traditional workplace and haven’t been for years.
But what if your decision making skills were not adept? What if you lacked communication skills? What if society as a whole generally perceives you as “less than” a usual person? Because let’s be honest…much of our society does.
More statistics to keep you up at night:
- one study reported that 25 percent of girls and women with intellectual disability who were referred for birth control had a history of sexual violence (Sobsey, 1994)
- A study of approximately 55,000 children in Nebraska found that children with intellectual disability were 4.0 times as likely as children without disabilities to be sexually abused. (Sullivan & Knutson, 2000).
- Women are sexually assaulted more often when compared to men whether they have a disability or not, so men with disabilities are often overlooked. Researchers have found that men with disabilities are twice as likely to become a victim of sexual violence compared to men without disabilities (The Roeher Institute, 1995).
- If you want to read more, visit the Arc page on this.
- In addition, abuse is typically more severe, is more likely to occur multiple times and is more likely to be repeated for a longer period of time.
Much like other forms of sexual assault and harassment, usually the victim knows his/her assailant.
But not all is lost. We can be proactive.
First, learn what it looks like.
- The hidden victims of campus sexual assault: Students with disabilities
- Abuse and Exploitation of People with Developmental Disabilities
- Learn the different types of abuse against disabled people.
Recognizing and Preventing Sexual Abuse in people with autism
And, if you suspect it, report it. Every state has Adult Protective Services if the person is an adult. Otherwise, your pediatrician can guide you if you believe it is occurring from a school or community member.
Most of all, don’t give up. Do whatever it takes to make that person safe. In many cases, the abuse is systemic. And if a facility believes that it is ok to have the disabled person living or schooling in squalor, filthy conditions and substandard living…then it is very likely that someone is also committing sexual abuse there. That’s not to say that it only occurs in poorly run schools and facilities–it happens everywhere. But if you are certain of one type of abuse going on, keep digging.
I’m glad that so many people are talking about this issue. Now, let’s change it.
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