Ableism and Abuse

First of all, I have to apologize for my lack of blogging recently. I graduated (woot!) and have been busy packing/moving/saying goodbye to people, so I have been slacking on Word-Warring. Sorry sorry sorry! I’ll try not to let that happen again this summer!

Now, on to some real content . . .

On SAFER’s blog, they have a great post about a new bill in California designed to increase awareness about the unique situation in which people with disabilities are placed in terms of crime, abuse, and neglect. Unfortunately, members of this population can be more vulnerable to violence and sexual violence than those without disabilities:

According to the text of this bill, approximately 8 in 10 women with disabilities and 4 in 10 men with disabilities have been sexually abused in the State of California. The CA State Council on Developmental Disabilities calls this abuse and other crimes against people with disabilities an “invisible epidemic,” which truly encapsulates the constant struggle of people with developmental, intellectual, cognitive, and/or physical disabilities in the United States who often endure great pains and injustices in order to make themselves heard and to become visible within a public discourse from which they are consistently left out. Generally, women in society are at an increased risk of violence and sexual assault when compared to men. For women with disabilities, this risk can often be much greater than their non-disabled female counterparts due to several factors such as their perceived or real increased vulnerability by perpetrators and diminished status, agency and power in various settings.

In order to ensure that people with disabilities are treated with respect, this bill (AB 2038 ) will make sure, among other things, that law enforcement officers will be trained about the unique needs of people with disabilities (for example, making sure that physical examinations take into account a person’s cognitive or physical disabilities) and mandates that violence-prevention education include appropriate information about victims of crime who have disabilities.

Here is yet another example of how important it is that the feminist movement pay attention to oppressed or victimized populations other than “women.” Not only are people often members of multiple oppressed groups at once (which leads to unique problems, difficulties, or needs), but when a group–any group–is subject to a narrow-minded (and often institutionalized) interpretation of what is “normal” or “just,” then we all have the obligation to educate ourselves and ensure that everyone has their civil rights protected. Basically, everyone has to be free for anyone to be free.

For example, SAFER notes: “Historically, women and girls with disabilities have been almost completely excluded from most health research, and the complex issue of violence and sexual abuse against women with disabilities has received little public attention, which has of course resulted in few funding dollars and low public awareness.” Sound familiar? I have certainly heard about the systemic problems of sexism in health research, which has led to a lack of understanding of women’s health issues (most notably in cardiology research–remember when someone finally realized that women suffer from heart attacks too?), but it honestly never crossed my mind that people with disabilities are also left out of health discourses (other than the ones dealing directly with physical disabilities, that is). Do cardiology studies, cancer treatment studies, or other important long-term studies take into account people with disabilities? I somehow doubt it. This will lead to the same gaps in health knowledge that have been affecting, negatively, women with or without disabilities for decades, as well as people of color, who are also excluded from important health trials.

I am going to do some more research on ablism in the coming days, and I hope to do a better post on ableism soon, after I find out a little more. In the meantime, though, check out this site, sponsored by the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities for more on this topic and related subjects. I also recommend reading this past week’s Savage Love column, which dealt specifically with sexuality and people with disabilities. Although that column is more of an advice column and does not deal specifically with activism, Cory Silverberg’s (co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability) comments on our assumptions about sexuality and people with disabilities are pretty eye-opening.

*Edit* Through one of the comments, I was able to check out the blog of the Disability Activists Work Group–Oregon. It is a great site that covers important news stories about the neglect or maltreatment of persons with disabilities, including incidents of sexual violence. Many of the stories are hard to read because they are so senselessly tragic. However, hopefully enough people will be angry enough so that they can examine why our society is structured in a way that allows destructive ableism to occur. Check it out yourselves.


2 Responses

  1. Great post! I also posted on Oregon’s crisis of neglect/abuse today. It’s a huge problem here.

  2. She’s back and better than ever! Nice post femme. Very interesting stuff and an area that I really want to learn more about.

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