Content warning: This post discusses rape and sexual assault of women with disabilities.
One of the persistent problems with rape and sexual assault cases is that they tend to be very poorly reported in the media. They aren’t reported at all, for the most part, if they involve nonwhite women, sex workers, disabled women, trans women, and other women living in marginalised bodies, and when they are, it is treated as regional news, instead of a systemic and serious problem. In the case of women with disabilities, rapes are often reported as a crime against society, rather than against the victim.
This tends to create a situation where it’s hard to get accurate information and where people underestimate the frequency of rapes of people in marginalised bodies. Indeed, there’s a widespread social attitude that rape of people with disabilities doesn’t occur because ‘why would anyone want to have sex with them‘ when, in fact, people with disabilities are deliberately targeted by sexual predators. People who cannot report crimes, who will not be believed when they report them, who are not provided with the tools for reporting, who can be easily threatened and intimidated by their rapists, are viewed as ideal targets for rape and abuse.
Especially in institutions, rates of sexual assault and physical abuse are, to be blunt, revoltingly high. Even more revolting are practices such as sterilisation, ostensibly for ‘convenience,’ but really to prevent rape victims from getting pregnant so that no one recognises that they are being abused. Depriving people who use communication books and boards of the terms and concepts they need to describe what has been done to them. Dismissing rape reports made by people with mental illness. There’s a reason that women with disabilities experience rape at levels much greater than the average.
It’s really hard to find statistics on rape of disabled women. There are a lot of reasons for this ranging from poor reporting to varying definitions of disability, but generally speaking, estimates seems to suggest that disabled women are twice as likely to experience rape than nondisabled women.
For women with developmental disabilities, these statistics become even more distressing. To grab one statistic, at least 70% of women with developmental disabilities experience rape. This rather stark statistic (others put the numbers closer to 83%) illustrates that rape is not just a feminist issue, but a very probable risk for women with developmental disabilities.
In the last week, I read a report about a man who raped a woman with developmental disabilities in her home a few hours south of me. A man in Cleveland groomed and then molested a women with developmental disabilities. A Census worker in Indiana was charged with breaking into a home to burgle it and rape a woman with developmental disabilities who lived there. In Lombard, Illinois, a protective order was not enough to prevent a man from raping a woman with developmental disabilities.
These are all stories I read in the last week, without actively seeking out stories about the rape of women with developmental disabilities.
The. Last. Week.
And what do these stories tell us? In Cleveland, the molester ‘befriended’ his victim. The Lombard man ‘had sex with‘ his victim. The typical narrative that surrounds reports of rape and sexual assault, one where the words ‘rape’ and ‘rapist’ and ‘raped’ are rarely used in lieu of euphemisms that distance the rapist from the crime. Words that leave room for interpretation and debate. Words that are designed to dilute the power, the intensity, and the violence of the crime.
These women had their hair pulled. They were physically attacked and left with bruises and black eyes. They were raped. Their rapists were not ‘friends’ who ‘had sex with’ them. They were rapists. They were rapists who groomed and targeted victims, looking particularly for women who would have difficulty fighting back, who would not be able to report their rapes, who would have to rely on their caregivers to fight for them because they are deprived of autonomy.
Does that make you angry? Because it’s certainly making me angry. Rape already makes me angry to begin with, so this is an entirely new and incendiary level of anger.
This is a systematic denial of personhood and bodily autonomy at every level.