Students talk: “Those Other People Over There”

1Reconsidering disability means reconsidering our biases

“The idea that disability rights is a joke and that disabled people are Those Other People Over There increases the rate at which our assaults aren’t taken seriously. I’ve heard college students sincerely profess the belief that people with intellectual disability [ID] are unrapeable since they aren’t ‘fully adults’—but also that people with ID can’t consent either. This was in an ethics class!”
—Student, Portland State University, Oregon

“[This issue] reveals our own biases against mentally challenged people, and our instinctual desire to patrol and criticize other people’s sexuality.”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, University of Alaska Anchorage

“Disabled people have as much right to give consent as anybody else.”
—Third-year undergraduate, Nova Scotia Community College

2Even many progressives don’t understand disability

“I am disabled and mentally ill, and although I have never been sexually assaulted at my university, my experience is that the majority of authority figures in academia feel comfortable minimizing, overlooking, or shutting down the perspective and wishes of various disabled communities—including in schools and departments that market themselves as being socially progressive and supportive of other marginalized groups. The number of times I have been advised to ‘not be so definitive/aggressive/worked up’ or ‘not take an expert role on this issue’ when I have been forced to bring issues on disability rights to professors and TAs is staggering and incredibly alienating.”
—Second-year undergraduate, British Columbia

“I haven’t really given consideration to this issue, which doesn’t make me feel good. Persons with any kind of disability of course deserve full legal protection, as well as a public cognizant of such concerns. I hope the trend toward greater knowledge continues both in colleges and in general.”
—Third-year undergraduate, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

3Social isolation increases the risk of sexual assault and coercion

“We worked with a student [who had been sexually assaulted] who called herself a ‘shut-in.’ She had not been able to get into campus housing and had been placed in a trailer off-campus. She went into a deep depression and didn’t have a protective social circle. She told us she realized later how vulnerable that made her.”
—Colby Bruno, Esq., senior legal counsel, Victim Rights Law Center, Massachusetts

“I was hanging out with some older people I was trying to be friends with, but was having a hard time getting into the group. The group leader said he would let me be friends with them if I gave him head. Desperate for acceptance, I did it. He kept his word and let me hang out with them, but afterwards all I wanted was to be alone. I could not look in the mirror without wanting to yell, scream, cry, and pull my hair out because I hated myself so much.”
—Second-year undergraduate, University of North Texas

4Disability means being misunderstood

“People with disabilities are encouraged to disclose their private medical information in ways other people are not, like it’s relevant to every situation. Then people want to attribute everything to the disability. Disabled people should be empowered to actually not be open when it’s not necessary, and to prioritize their safety and comfort over people’s misinformed intentions.”
—Former student, Catholic university, New England

“When you say a person has a disability, it might not be visible to the human eye.”
—Second-year graduate student, Tarleton State University, Texas

“I think people often misunderstand disabled people who connect and communicate differently with others. I’ve seen many circumstances (outside of college) where disabled people were ridiculed and/or criticized for being overly friendly and flirtatious, when that wasn’t their intention. They just didn’t communicate the same way and, as a result, they were misinterpreted.”
—Third-year undergraduate, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay

5Sexual assault can cause or aggravate emotional health issues

“I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with panic attacks and minor depression. I was sexually assaulted five years ago. I tend to overthink and worry about everything. I feel my sexual assault contributes to many anxious feelings I have in my day-to-day life and in my relationship.”
—Third-year undergraduate, Queen’s University, Ontario

“My best friend was assaulted at the first college social event we ever went to. Hardly anyone knows, and few believe it because he’s male. But I helped him through that trauma. I know how hard it was for him to recover.”
—Third-year undergraduate, University of California, Los Angeles

I was a freshman in college when I was raped in a closet at a party. My ex-boyfriend and his roommates blamed me. I started having panic attacks. My heart would race and I would hyperventilate with no cause. I was diagnosed with PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, put on anxiety medication, and underwent counseling.”
—Graduate student, California Lutheran University

6People with high support needs are at high risk

“I have a sister with severe cerebral palsy and noticed how she would come from high school with certain marks on her body. The doctor didn’t confirm any sexual abuse, but recommended having my sister on birth control. The lack of support and understanding from the doctor was scary.”
—Student, City College of San Francisco, California

“My brother is autistic. I grew up in Alaska and heard horror stories of sexual assault experienced by disabled Native Alaskans in rural communities and in the city.”
—First-year graduate student, Portland State University, Oregon

“My sister has Down syndrome, and one of her friends was sexually assaulted a few years ago. You really don’t think about someone taking advantage of disabled students until someone does. It’s sickening, and more attention should be geared toward this topic.”
—Third-year undergraduate, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

7Sexual assault and disability is a hidden issue

“Unfortunately, this topic is not one that has ever crossed my mind as more than a passing negative thought. I have a lot of experience with children and adults with disabilities and I have never been educated on this issue or thought much about it.”
—Third-year undergraduate, Gonzaga University, Washington

“As someone who works with nonverbal teens with autism, knowing how to respond to their sexuality has been difficult. There is not a lot of guidance from [disability] agencies. And do all teens/young adults with autism stay forcibly celibate? How does the state decide who is capable of giving consent?”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, Notre Dame of Maryland University

“Abuse can happen to anyone, young, old, or disabled. Unfortunately, I feel like our society focuses more on the young and physically able and others are ignored or at least not given the focus they need.”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, Utah State University