People with Disabilities and Sexual Assault
Published: 2012-11-20 - Updated: 2022-03-14
Author: Thomas C. Weiss | Contact: Disabled World (Disabled-World.com)
Peer-Reviewed Publication: N/A
Additional References: Disability Sexuality Publications
Synopsis: People who experience forms of disabilities may face limited options where escaping from abusive relationship is concerned. Approximately 80% of women and 30% of men with a form of intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted - half of these women have been assaulted more than 10 times. People with disabilities who have survived an abusive relationship have repeatedly stated that the criminal justice system does not treat people who experience forms of disabilities as being, 'credible.'
The numbers of people who experience forms of disabilities who would openly state they are a part of the disability community is low and there are reasons why. People with disabilities often times do not live in neighborhoods where they have the ability to meet one another and share their experiences and stories. There are few community centers, religious gatherings, or even coffee shops that cater to people with disabilities unfortunately. Many people do not want to identify themselves or been seen by others as experiencing a form of disability.
For example, many seniors today experience physical health issues that interfere with their mobility, or have degenerative conditions that affect their cognition, yet do not wish to be perceived as being, 'people with disabilities.' A number of people who experience mental health disabilities do not claim to have a disability simply because of the many stigmas associated with forms of mental illness. Deaf culture, in another example, often asserts that people who are deaf do not have a disability and there is nothing wrong with them that needs, 'fixing.'
People with disabilities many times find us living in a world where others do not understand what it is like to live with a particular form of disability. It is hard for some people who are blind, for example, to believe they belong to the same community as people who experience forms of cognitive disabilities. People who experience osteoarthritis many times do not identify as belonging to the same community as people who experience forms of paralysis. The result is a lack of cohesive community and it may not be surprising that people with disabilities experience domestic or sexual assault at higher rates than people who do not experience disabilities.
Living with a form of disability can be isolating, particularly with a lack of cohesive community. Isolation increases a person's risk of abuse. One of the problems people with disabilities face is difficulty with trying to leave an abusive relationship.
People who experience forms of disabilities may face limited options where escaping from abusive relationship is concerned. The resources they have available to maintain independence and autonomy are many times exploited and controlled by their abuser. Survivors of abusive relationships with disabilities, when asked how an abuser, 'used their disability against them,' presented an extensive list of the tactics used against them. Abusers maintain power over a person with a disability through control of things such as:
- Mobility aids or medical equipment
- Access to telephone or communications equipment
- Disability services such as social workers or case managers
- Finances that are often being appointed as a person's legal payee
- Access to family members and friends who provide needed support
In one example, an abuser was using control of communication with others by translating for a person who was Deaf or had difficulty with speech. When a person with a disability wants to leave a relationship that is abusive the stakes may be incredibly high. If the person is unable to reconstruct a network of disability-related supports they might end up in a group or institutional setting. After people with disabilities enter such a setting they many times spend the remainder of their lives there.
The tactics abusers use against people with disabilities commonly exploit social bias, stigma and misinformation. People with disabilities have reported hearing comments from abusers such as:
- 'No one will believe you, you are crazy'
- 'I will tell them you get nutty when you don't take your medications'
- 'If you leave me I will get the kids because no judge in their right mind would give you custody'
People with disabilities who have survived an abusive relationship have repeatedly stated that the criminal justice system does not treat people who experience forms of disabilities as being, 'credible.'
Disability as a Factor in Sexual Assault
Disability is a factor that contributes to a person's vulnerability to assault. In, 'The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability,' it states:
'In general, little information is available on the risks for people living with disabilities. The studies that have been conducted make it clear that there is a much higher than average risk of sexual abuse for people living with disabilities. The numbers from different studies vary, but the risk for women with disabilities (internationally) is anywhere from two to ten times greater than that found in the general population.'
In general, people with disabilities experience both domestic and sexual violence at higher rates than people who do not have a form of disability. Some of the grim statistics available include the following:
- 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives.
- A mere 3% of sexual abuses involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported.
- 50% of girls who are Deaf have been sexually abused compared to 25% of girls who are hearing.
- 54% of boys who are Deaf have been sexually abused in comparison to 10% of boys who are hearing.
- Women with a disability are far more likely to have a history of undesired sex with an intimate partner - 19.7% vs. 8.2%.
- Approximately 80% of women and 30% of men with a form of intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted - half of these women have been assaulted more than 10 times.
- Doctor Brian Armour of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that women with a disability are significantly more likely than women who do not have a form of disability to experience domestic violence during their lives - 37.3% vs. 20.6%.
People who experience a visual impairment or limited mobility may be more dependent on caregivers or external assistance in general, making access to them fairly easy. As an example, a caregiver who is bathing a person and dressing them has access to their intimate space. If a person has a visual impairment, a guide who is sighted has scope to touch them. Experiencing a form of disability does not mean a person has to allow unconditional access. No one should touch you without your permission, to include caregivers.
A person's particular situation can also make them notionally more vulnerable to abuse, although not if you are aware of how to react. It is important for you, as a person with disabilities, to be aware of how to negotiate and set your own boundaries, learn simple self-defense measures, to be vocal or communicative about any discomforts you experience, and to be prepared, alert, and ready to react. The abilities will enable you to deal with any situation that you encounter, despite the experience of a disability.
Mental Disability and Sexual Assault
A person with a form of mental disability, like anyone else, has the potential to face abuse at the hands of someone who is familiar or a stranger. People who experience forms of intellectual disabilities have certain added vulnerabilities; others with bad intentions may perceive them as, 'easy targets.' Abusers think that because a person experiences an intellectual disability they will not be heard or believed by others. A survey performed in Odisha, India discovered that 25% of women who had a form of intellectual disability had been raped. The perception among their abusers was that it would be easy to get away with sexually assaulting them.
Women and men with intellectual disabilities might not have a protective web of family members, friends, or others who support them. They may depend upon care from caregivers or others - some of whom may decide to take advantage of the situation. It is extremely important for people with intellectual disabilities to have comprehensive and age-appropriate sexuality education that includes not only biological facts, but teaches them how to manage and enjoy appropriate relationships, to make responsible choices, as well as how to distinguish between what is appropriate and what is not. The information helps people with intellectual disabilities to recognize when an abuser is attempting to take advantage of them and exploit them, as well as providing them with the ability to report incidents of suspected sexual abuse.
What to Do if You are Attacked
Resisting an attacker is perhaps the most important thing to do when you are being threatened or you are being attacked. If you resist an abuser who is trying to attack you, you are often able to avoid rape. Some people believe that trying to stop an abuser from raping you will only make the abuser angrier. The fact is that an abuser is already dangerous and resisting rape might allow you to get away because it can show the abuser that trying to rape you will be too much trouble.
It simply is not possible to know how you will react if an abuser tries to rape you. Some people become very angry and gain a strength they were not aware they had, while others feel as if they are unable to move. Remember that if you are raped it is not because you failed to defend yourself; rape is never, ever your fault. If an abuser attacks you or attempts to rape you do whatever you can to get away such as:
- Roll your wheelchair into the person as hard and fast as you can
- Scream, yell, make noise, or yell 'NO!' Shout as loud as you can 'HELP!'
- Doing something the abuser finds disgusting such as spitting or drooling
- If you lose your balance easily, sit down to defend yourself and fight back
- Hit your attacker in the nose or the eyes, you can use your head to hit the attacker in the nose too
- Hurt the soft parts of the attacker's body like their testicles, nose, eyes, or scratch, hit or kick them
- Throw dirt, pepper, or chili powder into the attacker's eyes - it will blind them and cause them pain and may give you a chance to get away
- For people who use crutches or have weak legs, sit down or kneel and use your crutches to fight your attacker. Poke the end of the crutch towards the attacker as hard as you can.
People who are blind may lose their bearing when an abuser attacks them. Interestingly, you can use the attacker's own body to help you! Try to find the place where the attacker's shoulder meets their neck, it is one of the easiest places to find quickly and it gives you good information about the rest of the attacker's body. You then have the ability to hit the attacker in their soft spots.
Ask a friend to help you practice finding the shoulder quickly as well as the tender spots of the body. A friend can also help you practice your skills with defending yourself. Practicing self-defense can help you to feel safer and more confident, even if you are never assaulted. Practice having a strong and assertive attitude and remember that even if you do not have the ability to defend yourself it is not your fault if you are attacked or raped.
Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.
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• Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2012, November 20). People with Disabilities and Sexual Assault. Disabled World. Retrieved December 1, 2022 from www.disabled-world.com/disability/sexuality/assaults.php
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