The Silent Epidemic of Abuse Against Disabled Women

Content warning: sexual assault, misoygny, violence against women and disabled people.

The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and are not necessarily representative of the views of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.

Disability with Charlotte Paradise.

In the heart-breaking wake of Sabina Nessa’s murder and as our voices rise for the millionth time about violence against women, it’s time we talk about the exponentially high statistics around sexual violence against disabled people. It’s a subject that’s swept under the carpet and silenced even by the systems that are supposed to protect us. Enough is enough.

I’m taking a deep breath as I sit down to write this article. It’s not an easy experience researching and writing about sexual assault for anyone. This is especially true for me as someone who falls into two categories that make me more susceptible to violence – being a woman and being disabled. Despite that, these things need to be written about. Enough is enough.

Disabled women are at a higher risk of being raped than women without a disability. An estimated 2 in 5 (39%) female victims of rape had a disability at the time of the attack. I’m just going to pause there. It’s so easy to skim over a statistic, to see it as just a number. This isn’t just a number, these are women. Between 2016 and 2018, disabled women were almost twice as likely to have experienced sexual assault than non-disabled women. They were also more than twice as likely to experience domestic abuse at 17.3% (2019). Children with mental health or intellectual disabilities are almost five times more likely to experience sexual abuse. Enough is enough.

If you’ve read my column before, it doesn’t come as a surprise to hear me say that we live in an unacceptably inaccessible society. That carries on over to violent crimes both in who is abused and how it is dealt with. Nothing says that louder than the fact that the more disabilities you have, the more at risk you are of rape or sexual assault. That makes me sick to my stomach. Enough is enough.

Only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police. Out of those 310 reports, only 25 of the perpetrators will be incarcerated. That’s 8% of reported abusers that are imprisoned. It’s no wonder why such a small number of cases are reported by disabled and non-disabled people alike. The odds aren’t exactly in a victim’s favour. They are even less so in sexual assault cases against disabled women, which haven’t even been getting to court. Even if they were, the likelihood of the victim being able to even attend court is shockingly low thanks to just 2% of UK courts actually being accessible to disabled people. An eye-opening article by Sky News last month shares how disabled women’s reports are being treated (or mistreated) by the police. A woman with autism and PTSD was dismissed by officers because her disabilities apparently made her “overly emotional” and unreliable. A blind survivor has reported ten sexual assaults that took place in public in the last three years but has been turned away by police because she “cannot identify her perpetrators”. This is inaccessibility to a T. Not even the system that is supposed to (but most often fails to) protect women is accessible to victims with disabilities even though they are so much more likely to be harmed. Enough is enough.

Disabled women are not just disproportionately vulnerable to sexual assault but are also disproportionately vulnerable to having their trauma silenced and dismissed by the police. Sexual assault against disabled women has more than doubled in the past six years in England and Wales. Our streets are unsafe for disabled people at the best of times, let alone with this skyrocketing statistic of sexual assault for disabled women (and disabled men) to contend with. With a policing system that undermines disabled experiences at every turn, what hope is there for disabled sexual assault victims? Where is the hope for justice? Enough is enough.

Image via Lil McDermaid/Canva.

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