Bobby, the man who lived across the hall from us, targeted me for sustained stalking, sexual abuse, and psychological torture because I am a Disabled Woman. This was his pattern. In fact, Corona Manors on Capitol Hill in Denver was the perfect place to prey on Disabled Women.
When we moved in the property manager, at the time, commented on how common it was for Disabled people to live at Corona Manors. See, after graduation we had no employment, college debt, and no job in our sights. We only had the money we had tirelessly saved for rent and living costs after graduation. Corona Manors worked with people like us; Disabled people and their partners who had nowhere else to go. We were approved and got the keys before we knew it.
From the first second I laid eyes on Bobby’s door I felt a chill. When we met him I could feel that familiar twinge say, stay away. When we were moving in he made objectifying comments about me to Trevor. Both of our instincts were telling us not to trust this man and we never did. We tried to keep our distance. But he was literally only a few feet from our door and he was constantly hovering around and knocking on it.
We did not immediately move which I’ve regretted and blamed myself for since. However, we could not move. Corona was our last hope. We ended up there because I was Disabled. We couldn’t leave because I was Disabled.
He targeted me because I was Disabled. He knew he could subject me to that torture because I was Disabled; in fact, he specifically asked Trevor about my Disabilities. This is common. Disabled people, whether they’re men or women, TGNC or cis, white or BIPOC, cognitively or physically disabled face increased sexual violence because we are exceptionally vulnerable targets.
People with disabilities are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities. A 2005 survey of people with disabilities indicated that 60 percent of respondents had been subjected to some form of unwanted sexual activity. Unfortunately, almost half never reported the assault. Disability Justice
I won’t go into more details about his abuse in this post (you can read a bit more in my post “I Woke Up”); but it was a level of violence I had never experienced. That’s absolutely a part of the Disabled sexual abuse experience too. The violence we face is often a “more extreme exercise of power, coercion and control, and more pervasive and wide-ranging abuse.” (Disability and Domestic Abuse: Risk, Impacts, and Response)
In fact, if it had not been for the extent of the abuse I would not have reported, just as I didn’t with my past two rapists and various sexual assaults throughout my life. But I knew Bobby’s pattern. I knew there were past victims. I knew there would be more victims as long as he could hunt us. I knew I needed a police report to break our lease and move somewhere safe. I was overwhelmed but I dialed the Sexual Assault department and they told me to call 911.
What happened next is my focus. The abuse, dismissal, and gaslighting I faced at every point of contact with society as I tried to report this monster of a human being is the focus of this post. Why? Because people have been spreading the dangerous rhetoric that all survivors experience sexual assault and reporting the same. It’s simply not true:
The minute the cops came to the door it started. They collected my medical cannabis like it was evidence against me in a state where even recreational cannabis is legal. They isolated me, saying Trevor would meet me at the hospital. Once in the ambulance they began to take my story. I was totally terrified as I realized the full extent of what had happened to me over the course of the year. As I expressed my frustration with flashing back during the interview: “I can still hear his voice in my head…” they implied I had schizophrenia and was hearing voices, imagining the whole thing. As if schizophrenic people should be actively doubted when reporting abuse (they should not).
The fact that Bobby raped me while I was sleeping only helped their agenda to dismiss me. The fact that I had to take such strong medications to sleep helped their ableist case. The fact that I already had PTSD before this and had dismissed my memories of the assaults as night terrors helped paint memories as hallucinations. The fact that my brain was still processing helped them manipulate and silence me. And Bobby knew all this would help discredit me. It was why he targeted me to begin with.
The social context of disability, including factors such as inaccessibility, reliance on support services, poverty and isolation, has a powerful impact on individuals’ increased risk for violence. Historically, individuals with disabilities have not been considered reliable reporters of abuse nor have they been given the chance to be self-directed in many domains of their life. Traditional approaches to “protecting” people with disabilities have inadvertently kept them from accessing the tools and resources needed for protecting themselves. Violence and Abuse against People with Disabilities
It took less than five minutes for them to begin painting me as cr*zy. I use this slur because I can (as a mentally ill person it’s my right to reclaim it) and that’s precisely what they meant – they did not mean mentally ill because mental illness is not “cr*zy.” They were being saneist. Discrediting and discounting my testimony before I could even give it. Because, of course, its easier to deal with one cr*zy b*tch than the systemic issue: Bobby, specifically, and the epidemic of sexual violence, generally.
I was dismissed due to bias. Others are denied due to bias and accessibility issues. Many deaf people struggle to find interpreters to report. Many shelters for survivors are inaccessible. Many people with cognitive and speech disabilities may struggle to even communicate the abuse due to accessibility and outright dismissal. The system is not set up for us and the tools to “protect” us have largely been about controlling us making them harmful, not remotely helpful.
The Emergency Room
Once we got to the hospital it only got worse.
By the time Trevor finally rejoined me I had been left alone in the hallway of a busy emergency room surrounded by triggering sounds and people. My heart was racing out of control, the memories kept flooding my brain.
Hospital staffs response when I could not calm down: “She must be on methamphetamines.” Even after running blood tests we could not get them to stop accusing of me being on different drugs and dismissing my reactions as drug related, as if drugs are a reason to discount someone’s reports of abuse (they are not).
Hospital staffs response when I switched between my legal and non-legal name: “She must have Multiple Personality Disorder.” They tried to use an outdated Dx – it’s actually Dissociative Identity Disorder – to again dismiss me. Clearly, one of my personalities had invented this rape, these assaults, this year long pattern of abuse. As if, that’s a symptom of DID (it’s not) and as if DID is a reason to dismiss and discredit survivors (it’s not).
What struck me most about this was why? Why did they feel the need to keep inventing reasons, inventing more Disabilities, to not believe me? I already had severe depression, PTSD, and chronic illnesses. I was already a confirmed drug user (prescription and medical cannabis). They had everything they needed; but instead they dismissed and invalidated my real issues and like vultures kept picking at my trauma, picking at me; trying to find “valid” reasons to treat me as subhuman.
Then came the medical neglect.
Hospital staffs response when I was concerned I had an ectopic pregnancy: Do an insufficient ultra sound, then dismiss my symptoms off hand and use the “hysterical pregnancy” and “imagined miscarriage” to discredit me. You see I had pregnancy like symptoms, including symptoms similar to gestational diabetes, in the months preceding September when the last rape occurred and I reported. In fact, two months before I had called Trevor at work scared I was pregnant.
I was having horrible symptoms from growths of some kind on my ovaries. I do not know, to this day, if it was ectopic pregnancy, endometriomas, maybe even a complex cyst or two. I cannot be sure because they refused to investigate further. Despite my heart rate not coming down even when sedated, despite my swollen distended abdomen, despite the enormous pain I felt, despite the fact that I know what growths bursting & leaking feels like, they refused to look beyond the obvious. Even though endometriosis and pelvic trauma increased the risk of complications dramatically.
They ran a pregnancy test and did a basic ultra sound. Neither were sufficient to properly diagnose the real medical crisis I was experiencing. I begged them to do an intravaginal ultrasound (no matter how triggering it would be) knowing that was the only way to see growths on my ovaries. They dismissed me. It was never even discussed. Once they could prove I did not have a fetus in my uterus any attempt to explain my symptoms was rejected. In fact, my symptoms no longer existed to them.
After the rape kit they told us they were taking me somewhere safe and quiet to rest. I passed out for the uptenth time and woke up with Trevor in the psych ward. I was texting my mom when the male psychiatrist opened my curtain and demanded I hand my phone over. I refused explaining this was how I felt most comfortable communicating my trauma with my family.
The response: She must have a disorder that makes it so she cannot recognize family unless she calls/texts from her cell phone. They were trying to order me to surrender my control over communication, surrender my privacy. They were trying to again call me cr*zy when I refused. They acted like it was absurd that I was not comfortable using their public, exposed phone to talk to my mother about being raped.
I was terrified. But over this shit. I insisted they let me go. I forced their hand, they didn’t have legal standing to hold me. They were forced to release me. Trevor was astounded and terrified but we got out and went to my supposed “friends” house in Greeley. We could not go back home. For the time being I was effectively homeless.
I was a Disabled, fat, homeless woman trying to report sustained sexual abuse. I was fucked and I had no idea how truly fucked until I was in chains.
Friends, Cops, and Hospital Staff
We went to Joe and Sam because they had studied psychology and Sam actually had a job in mental health. They had both helped me through my PTSD in college and were some of my closest friends. We thought I would be safe.
However, due to the ongoing medical crisis and complete lack of explanations or investigation into it they soon believed I was cr*zy and began discounting me. Initially Sam was especially supportive but then I felt the pain, like it was bursting again. I felt like I was going into labor. I was horrified and begged them to get me to the hospital. When they did, no one told me anything that was going on. Instead of addressing my symptoms, investigating at all, they again discredited it as “hysterical miscarriage.” Trevor was told not to tell me any details and let me believe I was passing the fetus.
I actually did pass… something… and thought the ordeal was over. We went back to Joe and Sam’s house. By then I hadn’t slept in days, I had not felt safe enough due to being recently assaulted and the response when I tried to report. I had passed out, blacked out from trauma throughout this but real sleep was elusive. They kept cajoling me to move to bed. I agreed reluctantly but I had been having the strangest lucid dreams, like I was sleep walking. Because of these dreams I was convinced Will, my first rapist, was coming to kill me, I was convinced he was a cop (the first cop I had contact with was named Will). I called him to beg him to let me go (he had stalked and harassed me for years after, our response to trauma is never entirely irrational).
I was deep in a mental health crisis.
I was definitely snapping from everything I was experiencing. Calling Will? Definitely not the healthiest move. Will did not help; he kept trying to keep me on the phone. I was terrified he was tracing the call. I begged them to get prepared, call the cops, grab weapons, anything. I had every reason, especially in that state, to believe Will was capable of anything. Trevor kept admonishing me and telling me to stop; he was right that it was not helpful but how he went about it was commanding. I told him to leave me alone for a moment at this point all attempts to control me felt exactly like the assaults.
Trevor left. Joe came in. He did not like what I had to say.
I maintained that anyone could be controlling, that yes maybe I should not be calling Will but telling me not to was controlling and not the way to help. Above all, my insistence that I was now my top priority, that my personal safety was top priority upset him. I pointed out he felt the same way and why was it okay for him and not me? He said “this just doesn’t sound like you” and left. I sat there for a bit trying to calm myself. I sat until I felt like I could handle Trevor again. When I went to ask that Trevor come back in I found Joe was holding the door shut.
Joe refused to let me out, refused to let Trevor join me.
He yelled at me like I was misbehaving when I tried to get out.
Then I could hear them talking about me outside.
About my “supposed miscarriage.”
Whispering about me.
Frustrated beyond belief because Joe and Sam kept asking for proof of my medical crisis. They kept asking to “see.” I got the door open after Joe stepped away from it briefly to “discuss” me and I threw my pants into the living room. See, my body kept involuntarily voiding whatever it was reabsorbing, whatever was bursting and leaking inside me. They wanted to see the evidence? Fucking fine.
That’s when Joe locked me back in and said I was not allowed out until HE decided I was.
Just because I had thrown dirty pants in their general direction (did not even touch them) after Joe had locked me inside a room. Basically, rather than communicate directly with me and deescalate the crisis they talked behind my back about how best to control me and kept locked me in a room.
I told them repeatedly I was opening the window. I warned them repeatedly, “I will pop out your screen to get out, please don’t make me.” Joe yelled at me through the door as he physically held it shut. He yelled at me for trying to open the door. He was admonishing me for not wanting to be forcefully locked in a room.
When he finally opened the door I tried to bolt up the stairs. I just wanted to get away. Joe grabbed me by my neck, choking me, and forced me to the ground. He held me down. I begged him to stop. He told me to stop resisting and he would let me go. I did, he still refused. I resisted again, he used it as justification to keep assaulting me. I spat in his face after that and he accused me of assault… while assaulting me. Struggling to fully control me Joe tried to get his brother (who made inappropriate comments to me, who Joe and Sam had warned me about) to help “hold her legs.”
I said “this feels like rape, I feel like I’m going to be raped.” He looked down at me as he held me down and said “I could, but I won’t because I love you.” That shattered me. I screamed for Trevor to stop it. I screamed and begged for Sam, Trevor, anyone to get him the fuck off of me.
See, Trevor was being fed lies that this was somehow the proper response. Lies from people we trusted, people who should have known how to deal with a crisis. Sam kept telling Trevor not to help. Sam led Trevor away. Trevor not helping… it shattered the trust between us for a long time. I felt absolutely betrayed. Sam and I no longer speak because they refused to apologize for complicity in my abuse even when I got them to admit they both had escalated the situation and Joe had attacked me.
Then the cops came.
Upon seeing Joe on top of me, assaulting me they did nothing. When Joe let me go I crawled away as fast as I could till a massive hand came slamming down on top of my head shoving my face into the ground. I froze and begged them to let me go. The cop responded “You were coming for me.” I responded “no I am trying to get away from you.” He held me there frozen, when he let me go I rushed into a corner of the room and tried to calm myself down.
Then the EMT came in.
She was gentle, sweet… I felt safe. I told her my name was Meghan Steele and that I was not married, because I no longer felt married. I was furious and hurt by Trevor not stepping in to help me. I felt completely alone and isolated. This was also used to make me appear cr*zy.
I woke up from blacking out again. I was at the hospital. They were trying to inject me with something without my consent. I begged them to let me consent, to tell me what it was, to let me administer it myself, if I could. I begged them for some vestige of control, some remnant of my bodily autonomy. They were treating me like a psych patient, consent was no longer necessary (as if that’s remotely acceptable). I was a cr*zy b*tch to them, that’s all. They were gonna control me one way or another.
They held me down. It took at least five of them. I screamed, pleading. They forcefully injected me. They chained me to the bed. They left me alone. My bowels needed to evacuate the unknown material my body kept reabsorbing and trying to pass. I was still in a medical crisis. I begged to be allowed to use the restroom. I got absolutely no response.
They had triggered a total psychotic break. My mind tried to explain all this because I could not fathom why – I must be being experimented on! You see, my poor ill, abused brain reasoned that was why I was being treated like I was not human. I was trapped in that delusion for so long. I kept seeing people who weren’t there. I kept imagining the television was on. All the horrible realizations about our society, our system, how it dealt with survivors were all swirled into the delusions. I was stuck and it was terrifying. I passed out and my bowels evacuated.
When I woke up again they were deriding me for having “soiled myself,” as if I had not been pleading with them to please let me use the restroom. They were pawing at me, cutting off my clothes in front of men, and forcibly “cleaning” me. I begged them to let me clean myself. They mocked me and kept telling me to roll over while all my limbs were still shackled. Moving was physically impossible; yet they only reluctantly unshackled my leg when I repeatedly pointed that out. I was stunned. I was in so much pain from the medical crisis, my chronic illnesses, and being chained to a bed.
Joe, Sam, the doctors, the cops, the nurses – they had all treated me like I was a cr*zy b*tch. Rather than communicating, rather than validating me, rather than helping me heal – they had assaulted me and tried to control me. In doing all this, in treating me like this they caused a full blown mental break. They caused me to actually have vivid and terrifying hallucinations.
That is how they treat Disabled survivors. They treat us like we’re cr*zy until they push us into a crisis. Then they assault us causing further injury. They treat us like we’re cr*zy until we start to believe them.
Lock Her Up
It didn’t end there though.
I woke up the next morning. Trevor was finally allowed to see me. I was subdued. I felt ashamed. I apologized for what happened with Joe, I’m disgusted by that to this day. I was completely broken. I was still hyperalert and paranoid. I was trying to shake the delusions but they haunted me. I kept expecting to keep being assaulted. It had become my reality. I was still worried about Will.
They used the mental health crisis, the psychotic break, the unexamined medical crisis, and the fact I had nowhere to go to coerce me to sign into a “behavioral health” facility. Basically, a mental detention facility. They were locking me up. Disposing of the problem. I was that cr*zy b*tch, they were controlling me. They intentionally misinformed us. Told us they would treat my trauma there. That they believed me. That they wanted to help me. We were told they had an EMDR expert. They would be able to serve and meet my health needs.
When I got to the detention facility (because that’s what it actually was) I felt a sense of doom but kept trying to calm myself. I would get the treatment I needed. Right?
Wrong! Cue more medical neglect!
The first night there the medical crisis worsened. I was deathly pale, dizzy, nauseous, my head was splitting, my stomach was killing me, it kept distending, I was clammy & sweaty, my limbs felt cold & kept going numb. Additionally, I remembered hearing popping during the last rape and sharp pain in my left hand and foot. I was sure from the pain, and having broken bones in the past, that I had at minimum hairline fractures in my hand and foot. I knew the xrays done were insufficient to show hairline fractures – especially as multiple doctors who had seen me in highschool had commented on my bones being extremely, unusually dense.
I went to the front to ask them to please treat me. They refused. They mocked me. They kept saying “well there aren’t bruises.” They derided me when I could not make it back to my room. “Well you made it out here, why can’t you walk back to your room.” They couldn’t fathom that I’d been able to drag myself out for help but could not drag myself back to that pathetic “bed” to lie in pain next to a stranger in a medical crisis.
They finally wheeled me back to the room. I could not ease my swollen, pained body on to the thin rubber mat on the rock hard wooden frame. I asked for help and a man literally shoved me down. The same man kept coming in every fifteen minutes with a flashlight, it was horribly triggering and I was in so much pain and so vulnerable I kept crying. He told me to “shut up so I wouldn’t wake my roommate.” I learned not to cry there. I shook uncontrollably for minutes at a time. It felt like I was dying. I’ve never felt that sensation before or since.
The next day I passed blood. I passed sticky, reabsorbed blood, melena, for a week after that night. Something major had burst inside me and I had internal bleeding that was left completely untreated. I experienced shock and am lucky I didn’t lose enough blood, or have severe enough shock for it to kill me – because no one was going to treat me.
Then began their “treatment.” I met with the psychiatrist. I tried to talk to him and he told me he only cared about filling out the forms. He said “it doesn’t matter if I believe you.” He diagnosed me the next day with “schizo affective disorder” and put me on pills. They told me my heart would need to be monitored on these pills. I was suspicious.
The EMDR expert never came. In fact, he did not work there. He stopped by once every couple weeks – that was all. When I realized I would not be getting any treatment for my medical crisis (at the time I still thought it was ectopic miscarriage), my rape injuries, my chronic illnesses, and my PTSD all I wanted to do was leave. So I worked their program. I did and said anything I had to. Make them think you don’t belong here I kept saying to myself. It was working. Three days into my stay they said I was “too high functioning” and moved me to a different floor, by the way “high” or “low” functioning are saneist concepts.
The next time I saw the psychiatrist he said “well you’re obviously obese so men won’t rape you.” See, I was definitely fat at that point. But I knew weight had nothing to do with being raped. I knew I was fat because of my health issues, not because I wanted to “keep men from raping me” – as if that’s possible. I was horrified. I told him in no uncertain terms that he was wrong. But I couldn’t express how horribly wrong that comment was, the levels of rape culture in that one sentence. I knew after that, he didn’t believe me about anything. He was an old school ableist, misogynist, fatphobic, abusive fuck who shouldn’t be anywhere near my treatment, let alone anyone else’s.
I started begging Trevor and Mama to get me out.
Five days in my friend on the new floor had been molested in her sleep by a staff member. As you can imagine we were all triggered and upset. The other “patients” (I use ironic detachment here because we weren’t being treated) were the only safe haven I had and I wanted to protect us. I kept showing patients the rights they had been guaranteed when we signed forms. I kept trying to advocate for my friends. I felt like I was stuck in a mental prison and trying to round up my fellow detainees for a strike. It was a battle and I wanted to get as many of us out as I could, I still blame myself for not being able to get anyone else out.
Six days in my hand and foot pain became unbearable. I could barely use them. Bruises began showing as I became a little less ghostly pale. You could see where he had grabbed me. The bruises looked exactly like what I had described happening. I was experiencing symptoms from the medicine the quack psychiatrist had prescribed me. They were not helping me treat my chronic illnesses. The “bed” was killing me every night. They refused to let me wear compression clothes, even under looser clothes. All they were doing was “teaching us how to deal with stress.” I was done.
Mom flew in and she and Trevor camped out in the front office all day, demanding I be released.
The staffs response? “Are you sure your husband even wants you back?” “You can’t leave and we can now hold you for over forty days.” “Your doctor is an esteemed psychiatrist, you should be grateful to have him.”
I found out later from Trevor and mom that not only did they not believe me about a medical crisis existing or being raped; they also did not believe I had fibromyalgia or endometriosis. I was beyond pissed, you can cut me open and see endometriosis (I have pictures), and fibromyalgia has been a recognized Dx for decades. I found out from Trevor and mom that they had been withholding letters from her and Elizabeth, my sibling. They even refused to give me Elizabeth’s drawings. They were isolating me as much as they could and completely denying my Disabilities and trauma while saddling me with improper diagnosis and prescribing me medication that could harm my heart. In fact, the tests they did before they released me showed it was already affecting my heart’s wave patterns.
Worst of all I found out the biggest hurdle in releasing me (they genuinely had no legal reason to hold me) was their financial department. Trevor’s job has given us access to truly awesome benefits. But rather than that helping me – it was a reason they were trying to keep me there. The “hospital” was severely underfunded. The staff talked about it constantly, even to us. They were milking my insurance. They were trying to keep me there to be their cash cow. Not only was I constantly being treated as subhuman for being a Fat, Disabled, Woman survivor – they were literally profiting off abusing me.
Back in Society
Even after I got out, my primary care doctors continued to dismiss the internal bleeding. They knew they were too late to diagnose so they just shrugged it off. They also continued to dismiss my foot and hand, which still deal with pains when I walk or type too much (pains exactly like my healed toe fracture). My primary care physician who I thought I could trust still looked at me like I was damaged goods, VICTIM may as well have been engraved into my forehead. I only ever got answers from my own research.
We were able to find a new apartment after crashing in hotels for another week. However, I found out soon after that Corona was trying to bill us for breaking our lease and moving out. When I called them, furious, they said “We did an investigation, WE did a rape kit, nothing came of it, you still owe us money.” I exploded, they had nothing to do with the “investigation” and I had to go through the rape kit, not them. I haven’t talked to them since. I refuse to pay them. It’s in collections.
That’s the most infuriating part. I never would have reported if the abuse had not been so severe and sustained and if I didn’t feel I had to in order to break the lease. However, because I did report I went through levels of hell I never would have if I had not reported. I reported and not only did it not help, it has further Disabled me, and the property managers still came after us for money. More than that…
The property managers actively tried to slander me. I wrote a review to warn people to stay away from Corona Manors and found another review, also about Bobby, from a couple years back. They talked about how Bobby would linger around the trash cans and laundry room stalking people. I was not alone. In fact, at the emergency room, when I was first reporting, every time I said I lived at Corona Manors the nurses exchanged glances. One even said “I’ve heard things.” Within days of me adding my review, the only review in years, suddenly another review popped up disparaging myself and the person. It basically said: “I think some people just have mental issues and have decided to target a poor defenseless kind old man.” The apartment managers were trying to make me appear cr*zy, it was everyone’s fall back position.
I learned a thorough lesson from all this. I could not trust society. I could not trust systems. I could not trust anyone. It even took months to heal the trust between Trevor and I. I learned that as a Disabled Woman society would chew me up and spit me back out in a detention facility if I tried to stand up against the abuse we faced.
Systemic Abuse of Disabled Populations
And that’s why I wrote all this. That’s why I lay my trauma bare, even though survivors do not owe you our stories. Because this was hell, and I got off easy. I got out, after only six days. Others have it far worse. In fact, I was lucky to be placed in a “hospital” at all. Most Mentally Ill people are in jails and prisons. (Treatment Advocacy Center ) This a systemic problem. From the initial abuse, to how people and systems responded to me, to the final results of being further Disabled. All of this is systemic. It happens over and over again, all over the world, every single day.
Disability raises your risk of abuse, particularly sexual assault, to such an extent that Disabled Men are assaulted at the same rate as non-Disabled women. Not only do all Disabled people experience higher risk of violence and detention, but the more overlapping points of systemic oppression you face the more precarious your safety. Thus, when Disability overlaps with gender oppression you get even higher rates of violence. 83 percent of Disabled Women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, meaning #4outof5 are assaulted. Only 17 percent of us will not be assaulted. Disability Justice
Significant difference exist between genders in experiences of domestic abuse. While men are at risk of, and do experience, domestic abuse, women experience more repeated physical violence, more severe violence, much more sexual violence, more coercive control, more injuries and more fear of their partner. Disability and Domestic Abuse Risk
Combine gender oppression, this applies to TGNC and intersex people as well, with racial oppression and you get what happened recently to an Indigenous Woman (the most at risk “racial” population for sexual assault). The unnamed woman was in a vegetative state for 14 years. Recently, she suffered such severe medical neglect that “hospital” staff did not know she had been raped multiple times and forcefully impregnated until she was in labor. (Health Facility CEO Resignracial s After Woman In Vegetative State Raped Multiple Times) Disabilities fatal mix with race and gender oppression can also get you killed faster during a mental health crisis, like the one I experienced and feel lucky to have survived. Charlene Lyles a Black, pregnant, mother of four (including a Disabled child) was shot during a mental health crisis within minutes of police arrival. (Police killings: the price of being disabled and black in America)
In fact, the intersections of Disability and Racial oppression alone will get you shot and imprisoned. Laquan McDonald, the infamous Chicago case in which the officer was charged due to activist’s efforts, had PTSD and other unspecified mental illnesses. It absolutely played a role in his death and is barely discussed. A Deaf Latino man was shot in his front yard, not even a suspect, he came out when he saw the police. Police were shouting orders at him to lay down his mobility device. Despite neighbors yelling at the cops that the man was deaf and could not hear them they opened fire anyways, murdering him. (Oklahoma City Police Fatally Shoot Deaf Man Despite Yells Of ‘He Can’t Hear’) The police told Phillip Coleman’s mother “we don’t do hospitals, we do jails,” when her son died in police custody after she called 911 for his mental health crisis. (Police Killings) However, most of the time these people are never even reported as Disabled.
Additionally, Disabled sex workers faced increase violence. Because traditional work is inaccessible and/or people refuse to hire us housing insecurity, food insecurity occur at much higher rates. Meanwhile, medical costs are enormous and meager Disability payments are stripped from us with even the slightest amount of paid labor. Thus, alternative forms of work like sex work see large numbers of Disabled people. We need money and many of us find freedom and independence in sex work. However, sex work’s long history of decriminalization and the relatively recent passing of FOSTA/SESTA has made it less safe for sex workers, Disabled and non-Disabled alike. How?
Lots of sex workers use online platforms to advertise and promote their services. Online tools also provide a way for sex workers to alert each other about dangerous clients and can help give sex workers a way to screen them out. As online sex work resources dwindle, sex workers will have less available resources for screening. Combined with the loss in income from less advertising, this may cause sex workers to be more likely to accept potential dangers that they did not have to face previously, which can in turn lead to more violence, rape, and murders of sex workers. Sex Work is a Disability Issue
This risk only increases for Disabled sex workers and only increases the number of Disabled sex workers because trauma can absolutely cause Disability. The physical and mental injury of sexual assault, assault, encounters with police, etc. can cause and/or contribute to chronic mental and physical conditions that Disable people.
This effect is also present in prisons and jails. What happens after Disabled people are incarcerated or detained? How does prison in turn Disable people? As I mentioned previously, more mentally ill people are in prisons and jails than hospitals. Because Disability and trauma (highly linked) has increasingly been criminalized.
Recent studies suggest that at least 16 percent of inmates in jails and prisons have a
serious mental illness. In 1983 a similar study reported that the percentage was
6.4 percent. Thus, in less than three decades, the percentage of seriously mentally ill
prisoners has almost tripled… 40 percent of individuals with
serious mental illnesses have been in jail or prison at some time in their lives… in historical perspective, we have returned to the early nineteenth century, when mentally ill persons filled our jails and prisons. More Mentally Ill Persons are in Jails and Prisons
And the high rates of abuse, sexual violence, trauma combined with stark isolation means many people who enter prisons Abled will serve out their term Disabled.
Additionally, “care” facilities like long term living, mental or behavioral health hospitals, and elderly living facilities are also hotbeds for abuse. Companies like Bellweather Behavioral Health siphon millions of dollars of Medicaid for the care of Disabled people in their charge. They provide bare minimum level of “care” to people dependent on them to increase profit margins. They employ the minimum amount of people. This creates highly abusive environments. Trapped: Abuse and Neglect in Private Care
Type of Disability also affects risk for children and adults. People with cognitive disabilities are seven times more likely to be assaulted. Particularly when their Disability prevents them from communication and they are deprived of accessible communication methods. (The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About) Around 80 percent of women and 30 percent of men with developmental Disabilities have been assaulted, and the study found 40 percent of these women having been assaulted more than ten times. (Disability Justice) Those with hearing disabilities are also targeted.
50% of girls who are deaf have been sexually abused compared to 25% of girls who are hearing; 54% of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused in comparison to 10% of boys who are hearing. Disability Justice
We are more at risk and we are less believed. Only half of all assaulted Disabled people ever report because the bias and inaccessibility prevents us. People may not be able to reach the services they need to due inaccessibility. Even if they do, Disabled people are seen as unattractive, worthless, asexual and thus not even targets for sexual violence. There’s a common belief that whoever is willing to “put up with” caretaking or being with a Disabled person must be a “saint” despite the fact that most of us are assaulted by caretakers, partners, and family.
“And for some disabled women there’s a feeling that to put up with you, yourpartner must be a saint for putting up with them you know, so you kind ofdeserve it… People pity him because he is taking care of you and so noble. So people are reluctant to criticise this saint or to think he could be doing these terrible things.” Disability and Domestic Abuse Risk
This sanctifying of anyone who has consistent contact with us also leads to feeling like we deserve the abuse. It has a way of making us feel that if we complain at all, even justifiably, then we are being “ungrateful” and there is little this world hates more than an ungrateful Disabled person. The Ableism in our society makes it easy to manipulate us into resigning ourselves to our abuse.
We also are not considered “credible” witnesses even when testifying to our own abuse. We are already considered mentally and physically deficient – so why would we be trusted to speak on our own behalf? Predators know this. Predators consistently exploit that we are considered such wastes of space that ultimately no one cares about what happens to us. (The Sexual Assault Epidemic)
We Will Be Heard
The under representation of Disabled people who face sexual assault in #MeToo and other mainstream conversations is ultimately not surprising. It is the system working. We are one of the world’s largest and most erased marginalized populations. We live in every country, are a part of numerous communities, we fight for your rights but you never recognize us.
We are men, women, children, sex workers, prisoners, detainees, BIPOC, TGNC people, intersex people, animals. We are everywhere you look and yet you never think of us except to push us out of your way, as if we somehow prevent your access. Even activist organizations that seek to include Disabled people fail to consistently include us in their activism and analysis; the erasure only increases as you add in race, gender, class, and other oppressive dynamics.
This is especially depressing as we are a population that has only shown signs of growing. The more abuse, gun violence, sexual assault, improper medical care, food apartheid, etc. grow the more our population expands. Our society shows no signs of stopping these forces; thus, the growth of this invisible population of people shows no signs of slowing.
But I am not giving up. Millions of us are not giving up. Because our very survival depends on us fighting. I refuse to let the mainstream Me Too movement continue erasing BIPOC, especially women and TGNC people. I refuse to let mainstream movements continue erasing Disabled people. I refuse to let mainstream movements mainly only focus on white cishet abled survivors.
We do not all experience sexual assault at the same rates. Our experiences are not carbon copies. The only way we can have true solidarity as survivors is to recognize the divisions among us and work to rectify it.