Women with intellectual disability and the pandemic of sexual violence against them

It is likely no secret to most readers, that women are widely reported to be most vulnerable to violence, and usually at the hands of other men. However, sometimes this blanket report can sway us from delving deeper into the trenches of the brutality that afflicts specific demographics of women.

Which brings me to the tragic, ongoing reality of women with a disability and the viciously virulent pandemic of violence affecting them.

While it may not be a surprise to you that women with a disability are more susceptible to violent abuse, the real issue lies in how much society really, truly care.

Many of us, consciously, do care. After all, what person wishes suffering upon people who in many instances don’t get to exercise their human rights independently? Unless you are void of empathy, then most likely, you do not agree with that idea.

However, the concern really lies in the value we place on this global issue in comparison to other, more specific brands of feminist advocacy. For example, the #MeToo movement. This movement essentially broke Twitter when it first surfaced, and for many it was a reassuring, empowering thing to witness. We would hear from the perspectives of (predominantly white) celebrities who had been sexually assaulted or harassed by their male counterparts, urging women to reconsider the way they are treated. For many this was inspiring, but consider the origins of the #MeToo movement.

The #MeToo movement officially started in 2006 when a woman of colour named Tarana Bourke coined the phrase. She too used the soon to become hashtag as a way of standing up for injustice against women, and she remains a rampant activist today. Inspirational stuff, yet #MeToo only expanded across the globe when a white actress Alyssa Milano began to use it too. I think it would be even safe to say, that most people probably assume she came up with it. I am only speculating though.

Tarana Bourke

My point is, this movement took a white woman’s tweet to really take off across the internet. Sure, Tarana Bourke probably made an impact within the United States, but I daresay, the boom was delayed until a wealthy celebrity took the time to state her own case.

Alyssa Milano

Don’t get me wrong, I by no means wish to belittle the experiences of Milano with sexual assault. No woman should ever have to experience that, regardless of how privileged she may be. However, I guess I wanted to shed light on the voices we value most.

You may know that women with a disability (WWD) are most vulnerable to abuse compared to other women, but perhaps you didn’t know that the type of abuse most likely to afflict WWD is sexual abuse. Given that it has been found that sexual crimes come from a place of power play, I think this harrowing statistic provides some interesting commentary on where women with a disability are ranked in terms of value. More alarmingly, women with an intellectual disability in particular, are twice as likely to experience abuse compared to women with a physical disability and women without a disability put together.

This begs the question, if there are some human beings who feel they have the right to sexually assault women with an intellectual disability, thinking it is justifiable, then what do the rest of the non-abusive humans think about WWD?

Even though women with physical disability (PD) remain vulnerable to violent abuse themselves, they still seem to more often be given a platform to voice their experiences. In fact, it was just recently that ABC Australia did a report on a woman in a wheelchair who had escaped an abusive relationship.

Rather startlingly however, just by googling “women with intellectual disability who was abused” I was hard pressed to find an article coming directly from the perspective of a woman with an ID.

This brings me to my next point. Even though most people, I’m sure, would be disgusted upon hearing accounts of abuse against women with an ID I would argue how interested people would be in sincerely listening to the voices of these women.

As someone who has worked directly with women and men who have an intellectual disability, I feel I have at least some license to comment on the perceptions that a lot of support workers, even some social workers, appear to have on the ‘capacity’ of people with an intellectual disability. You hear comments such as “I don’t think they would understand” or “Lets just make it easier for them” . Some professionals will even have the audacity to speak about the person in the presence OF the person.

Not only is this presumptuously rude, I think it is shockingly indicative of the attitudes we hold towards women, women with a disability, women with an intellectual disability and people with a disability overall. They vary in terms of ranking. They are ranked by their ability to speak, the coherency of their speech, their intellect and more broadly, their general capacity to understand.

This is why I think we never hear from women with intellectual disability on the news. This is why some people think its okay to take advantage of them sexually. This is why we need to think long and hard about our perceptions of others.

Heck, the only time I’ve heard from a woman with an ID in the media was when I listened to a podcast about a murder, and it turned out this woman had rather cunningly instigated the whole thing. Her parents had no clue! Obviously I am not condoning murder, or suggesting people with an ID are murderers, but I do think this alludes to how grossly we underestimate people with an ID’s intelligence… a macabre but valid example!

I am just thankful that as a woman with a disability myself, I have the privilege of at least in some way, having some insight into how painful and unfair this must be for these women.

Do yourself a favour, google the stats. Women with an intellectual disability and abuse. You’ll find some easily accessible information on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Women with Disabilities Victoria.

That’s my rant for the day.






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