Posted on | July 25, 2009 | 276 Comments
One of the populations most vulnerable to sexual assault is women with disabilities. Some statistics show that up to 83% of women with disabilities will be assaulted in their lifetimes. Others say that women with disabilities are twice as likely to be raped and sexually assaulted as the general population. Whatever the numbers are, they’re very high, and very disturbing.
There are many myths with regards to sexual abuse of people with disabilities. Often, people with disabilities are falsely portrayed both as completely asexual, and unattractive and undesirable sexual partners. As many people still ignorantly believe that rape is some sort of compliment on one’s appearance, and as temporarily able-bodied people often bigotedly believe that no one could be attracted to a person with a disability, they thus frequently think that PWD cannot be raped. In the cases of some women with disabilities, they may also be portrayed as hypersexual, therefore making people who buy into rape myths perceive any sexual contact as consensual.
Another factor causing the rates of abuse against women with disabilities to be so high is the fact that they often rely on paid caregivers, or on family members to do care-taking. Indeed, a vast majority of the perpetrators of sexual violence against women with disabilities are paid male caretakers. The next highest group of perpetrators is male family members. When these men are acting as abusers, women can face particularly large barriers to justice, or simply getting the abuse to stop. Lauredhel wrote a post on this matter, which I encourage you to read in full, but which I am also quoting below:
Barriers to disclosure are a major problem. They include:
1. Ideas about WWD being particularly asexual, undesirable, dishonest, or promiscuous.
2. Inability of victims to identify their experience as grooming and sexual assault, due to lack of protective-behaviour and sexual education. (Issues of sexual agency are also touched on in the report.)
3. Punitive institutional responses to reports, including moving the victim rather than the assaulter, or locking victims in their rooms.
4. Dependence on perpetrators can leave victims unable to disclose because their care needs will no longer be met.
5. Communication difficulty, both practical and situational, related to disability or to physical and social isolation. Family carers or residential management act as gate-keepers and decision-makers, taking the power to report out of victims’ hands. Carers and workers lack training in appropriate responses to reporting.
If you take a look at that list, you’ll notice that a good number directly deal with the way that society treats people with disabilities. In other words, our able-bodied-focused society’s prejudice and mistreatment of PWD is what causes predators to choose them as targets. Not because people with disabilities are always “naturally vulnerable,” but because we are setting up a system that causes them to be vulnerable.