Chris Miller, James Meadours, and Kecia Weller
Every day, in every community across the U.S., people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are being sexually assaulted. Too many have a story to tell, and yet few are ever heard. The Talk About Sexual Violence project aims to change that by educating health care providers about sexual violence in the lives of people with I/DD. Here are just three snapshots of this epidemic, shared directly by those affected by it:
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. People don’t believe that rape and assault happens 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. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences if we tell someone about what happened to us. 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.
I never thought lightning could strike twice in the same place, but in my life it happened. I was sexually assaulted four times during my life and this is not uncommon for men or women with disabilities. My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I talked to the local rape crisis center two weeks after the rape, they didn’t know how to provide support since they do not usually help many men, especially men with disabilities. It was a new experience for them, but even though they didn’t have any training, they tried to be helpful. No one taught me the steps to recovery. I did remember what the SANE nurse told me – she looked me in the eye and said I needed to take care of myself before helping others who have suffered. After two years of recovery work, I realized when I was at a meeting to discuss sexual assault that I wanted to tell my story. This was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate to support others with disabilities who have suffered with sexual assault. I am now a national advocate and speaker at many conferences sharing my story and recommending changes so others can find healing and if they want they can become part of the MeToo movement.
Get involved. Help people with disabilities learn about safe relationships and prevention of sexual assault. Special attention must be provided at peer advocacy meetings to teach people how to support survivors when they report the abuse and create their own safety plans. There are many ways people with disabilities can be supportive. A few ideas include volunteering to be a listener on a hot line, educating school teachers about the frequency of abuse against students with disabilities and most important, learning more yourself about the alarming rate of sexual and other kinds of assault happening to men and women with disabilities.
Learn more about educating health care providers about this silent epidemic and supporting people with I/DD to tell their truth. Men with disabilities and other marginalized individuals are especially alone and need outreach now more than ever. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence!