This article was written by attorney and advocate Stephanie Woodward. It was originally posted on her blog Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2014 on May 29, 2014. It has been reposted here with her permission.
Domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape culture have been getting a lot of attention lately, especially with the #yesallwomen hashtag that has gained some serious momentum. I’m glad that this is on society’s radar right now, because as an advocate for ending domestic violence and rape culture, this is something that is on my mind every day.
Also, as a woman this is something that is on my mind every day. Every day I take steps to protect myself from sexual assault that most men never even think of. Every day I deal with statements and actions that perpetuate rape culture.
So yes, as a woman and an advocate I am glad.
But as a woman with a disability and an advocate for ending domestic violence against women with disabilities, I am disappointed.
I’m disappointed because these conversations about ending the violence, stopping the assaults, empowering women, and all that jazz never include women with disabilities.
This is a huge problem.
Well, for many reasons, but here’s just a few:
- Women with disabilities are at least twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence and sexual assault than women without disabilities.
- Women with disabilities experience abuse that lasts longer and is more intense than women without disabilities.
- Women with disabilities are less likely to report domestic violence or sexual assault. Approximately 70% – 85% of abuse against people with disabilities goes unreported.
- Studies estimate that 80% of women with disabilities have been sexually assaulted.
- One study showed that 47% of sexually abused women with disabilities reported assaults on more than ten occasions.
- Another study found that only 5% of reported crimes against people with disabilities were prosecuted, compared to 70% for serious crimes committed against people with no disabilities.
- Women with disabilities are often perceived to be weak, unwanted or asexual, making us more vulnerable to sexual violence.
- Some attackers have stated that they considered it a “favor” to rape and/or sexually assault women and girls with disabilities because they thought no one else would have sex with us, that we could not have sex otherwise, or they didn’t even view us as human beings.
- Abuse has a more severe negative effect on the self-esteem of women with physical disabilities than those without disabilities.
- Many women with disabilities have fewer economic resources, thereby increasing the risk of abuse.
- Women with disabilities face limited options for escaping abusive situations and accessing battered women’s programs.
- Women with disabilities are women too. Our voices, our thoughts, our bodies, and our lives matter.
I could keep continuing to list facts for you, but I’d be here all night. No, I’d be here for years. The point is that women with disabilities are women. We are human. We are sexual beings. And we are experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault and we’re experiencing it at much higher rates than any other population.
But nobody is talking about us. Nobody is talking with us.
Problems don’t get fixed if nobody knows the problem exists. By not taking a stand against the violence that women with disabilities face, we are essentially ignoring it.
No, we’re doing more than ignoring it. We are endorsing it.
When women without disabilities don’t step up to talk about and try to stop the abuse that women with disabilities face, they are endorsing that abuse. Just like when men don’t step up to talk about and try to stop rape culture, they are endorsing rape culture.
Just like rape and domestic violence isn’t a women’s problem, rape and domestic violence against women with disabilities isn’t just a problem for women with disabilities. These are both societal problems. Society needs to fix them. Men and women – with and without disabilities – need to work together on these issues.
So let’s start talking about domestic violence and sexual assault against women with disabilities because #yesallwomen includes women with disabilities.