In Which Rape Makes Me Angry

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.

6 Comments

  1. This defnitely makes my jaw drop. This is so absurd. And yet, it is so real. Almost everyday, women with developmental disabilities are raped, and the major media hardly writes about it as a systemic problem.

  2. Somewhere between my first and third days in a mental institution, I froze up. Which my body does. In full view of the rest of the dayroom, someone sexually assaulted me. (Is it rape if they use their foot?)

    Later, when I was able to move again, another patient approached me in private and told me what had happened. She assumed I hadn’t noticed or understood just because I couldn’t talk at the time.

    Years later I told a teacher who knew the guy (I don’t remember his name, I’ll call him Mike) who had done it to me. Instead of, say, reporting the abuse to anyone (she was a mandated reporter), she… laughed. Said “Yeah, that’s Mike for ya.” The two times I was assaulted at school, she blamed me for sitting near the guys in question. Didn’t report that either.

    I never reported it again.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..What I mean by “beneath” words. =-.

  3. Politicalguineapig

    I’ve told some of my near and dears, that if they get raped, they should come to me, and I’ll deal with it. Police are useless even for dealing with assualt of able-bodied women. They won’t even try with disabled women.

  4. Oh my gosh. Amanda, I’m so sorry.

  5. God, Amanda. Sorry is so … inadequate, but it’s all we can say.

    A big problem is that so many people think rape is about sex when it’s not, it’s about power.

    Why is that so hard to understand?

    I read a pretty sex positive book and I almost threw it across the room when he was like… all rape is bad, but raping a nun is worse than a prostitute. (Yes, he.)

    My mom’s been working in the “special ed” classes for a long time, and even at the elementary level, there were times when she suspected that a girl was being molested at home, or even worse. And they report it, but no one does anything. They keep an eye on all weird stuff and… no one seems to care. Even the nurse, the administrators, the highly paid people in charge of their well-being. Makes me sick.

  6. All of that “rape is about sex” and “rape is a compliment” and “she’s too ugly/fat/old/etc. to rape” stuff is bullshit. Bullshit. Rape is about rape. It’s about power and control and dominance. These women are more likely to be raped because they have fewer avenues to report what’s happened. They’re less likely to be heard, and if they are heard, people are still less likely to do anything about it.

    Sterilizing women so that the rape and sexual abuse can continue without causing an inconvenience like a pregnancy. It’s just one crime after another, against real people, real women. How the hell does anyone sleep at night?