Over the past year, a revolution has been taking place. Due to the voices of some strong, brave women sharing their long-held secrets about sexual harassment and abuse, thousands of Americans are coming forward about their own stories that they have held in secret for decades. Despite the truth that is being revealed about these heinous acts, many individuals continue to hide their stories out of fear of not being believed, not having an outlet to share, and fear of retaliation.
Many of these people who continue to protect their stories are individuals with disabilities. For people with disabilities who have been subjected to sexual harassment—or worse—there may be difficulty communicating their experiences, being believed, or fear of the loss of care. In a majority of abuse cases for people with disabilities, the care provider (such as a family member or personal care attendant) is the perpetrator; this is often the last individual that the public would consider to be the abuser. Unfortunately, there are limited options for people with disabilities to report this abuse or get support after it has occurred. People who have survived abuse from a care provider recognize that they often must decide between enduring abuse or receiving the care necessary to be able to get out of bed the next morning.
The #MeToo revolution has created an unprecedented movement of individuals coming forward to reveal their experiences with sexual assault and abuse. At this point, most of the individuals are already in the public eye, including actors and politicians, but a majority of the abuse survivors are the largely unseen members of the disability community. It is estimated that up to 85% of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities experience sexual abuse in their lifetime, yet a majority of their stories will never be heard.
Thank you to the individuals who were willing to share the following stories for this blog. Putting together this series was both humbling and terrifying because I know that these stories were life-changing events, and I have no way to do them justice. It is not easy to share life altering, private experiences with others, and I am grateful for all of those who shared their stories with me, allowing me a glimpse into the private, often secret dimension of individuals’ lives. For all of the people whom I interviewed, their experiences with sexual abuse changed their self-perception, how they viewed the world, and undoubtedly their trust in humanity.
This blog series is separated into four pieces from each of our contributors. At the bottom of each piece you will find resources for assault survivors. In the interest of protecting individuals’ privacy, if you would like to contact any of the contributors, please feel free to use my e-mail address (email@example.com), and I will relay questions and messages on to the writers.
Part 1: Ms. R
As a single mom with a young son on the autism spectrum, Ms. R was dedicated to providing for her family. She took every job that she could find just to make ends meet but, like many other single moms (especially for those with children who have disabilities), it was difficult to find affordable and appropriate childcare. However, she knew that she could rely on her father, who was a constant support for her and her son.
For many years, Ms. R’s father had watched her son while she was at work. He was a good father and so she did not question his motivation or intentions. However, she vividly remembered a phone call from her brother that changed her understanding of the very nature of humanity, including that of her own father. On the other end of the line her brother described walking in on situation that could have never been predicted, her son being sexually assaulted by her father. A million questions ran through her mind as she went to pick her son up: “How could this happen?”, “How did I miss this?”, “Why didn’t my son tell me?” Her son, like countless other childhood survivors, wanted to be liked and potentially felt like it was his fault. Further compounding the issue was her son’s limited communication ability, preventing him from being able to thoroughly describe what was happening.
As Ms. R’s son’s therapy began so did the criminal trial against her father. Because of Ms. R’s son’s diagnosis and limited communication, the judge felt that he was not a reliable witness, which forced them to accept a plea bargain with her father, resulting in his receiving a lesser sentence.
Now at the age of 22, Ms. R’s son lives with multiple mental health disabilities that have been exacerbated by his trauma. He has extreme anger and continues to question why he was the target. Surviving this trauma continues to influence his actions, even fifteen years later.
General info on abuse with resources
NPR Series on Disability and Abuse: Abused and Betrayed Podcasts
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Information and resources
The End Abuse of People with Disabilities Webinar Series
Webinars and resources