April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:
“For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. These ideas are communicated from an early age; the expectations of manhood are very high and never include opening up about any type of abuse, especially sexual assault and violence perpetrated against them, as an adult or child.
We are told and it is believed that rape and assault do not happen to us – but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Men with disabilities face an even more difficult hurdle of not being believed or seen as credible when they do report because they have a disability, and can be even more difficult for those who are LGBTQ, who are at greater risk for sexual assault due to their sexual orientation. Some people with disabilities communicate in non-traditional ways, meaning not verbally or use a communication device, so they are often looked at as not reliable witnesses or just simply not believed. Another reason people do not speak up is simply a lack of having someone they trust. Many live segregated lives and reporting an assault can be threatening and result in loss of home, caregiver or job. Those in authority have looked the other way when we have disclosed. When disclosure happens we are not asked how we feel. For those that are not able to tell, they act out their fear and frustration and then are medicated and the abuse continues. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences even if we do tell. This is a deep-reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.”
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.
Our Call to Action
Recommendations for Schools and Students
- Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
- Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
- Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
- Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).
Recommendations for Individuals
- Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
- Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
- Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
- If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
- Know your rights about your accommodation needs.
Recommendations for Disability Service Providers
- Require sexual trauma training for providers.
- Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
- Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
- Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
- Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.
Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals
- Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
- Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
- Use disability specific accommodations.
- Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.