October was Domestic Violence awareness month. A common element of domestic violence that disproportionately impacts people with disabilities is sexual violence. Often sexual violence goes hand in hand with domestic violence and other times they are issues that run parallel to one another. CORD partners with Independence House, our local domestic violence and rape crisis center, on a rape prevention and education grant. Together, we are working across Cape Cod to stop the sexual abuse of people with disabilities. Conversations about sexual violence can be uncomfortable. With so much going on in the world, it may feel easy to avoid this topic. Unfortunately, sexual violence does not stop during a global crisis. The first step towards prevention is making space for these conversations. We are starting the conversation here with the hope that you will continue it with peers, colleagues and staff.
According to RAINN.org, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. NPR’s 2018 web series, Abused and Betrayed, states that people with intellectual disabilities experience sexual violence at a rate that is seven times that of the general population and that they are 50% more likely to be sexually assaulted more than 10 times in their lifetimes. Based off of this data we can infer that an American with an intellectual disability is sexually assaulted approximately every 10 seconds. These statistics do not include the many individuals living in group homes and institutions. They also do not include the many incidents that are not reported. Speaking of unreported cases, we know that only 3% of sexual assaults against people with disabilities are reported (NPR.org, 2018). While we only have the data for intellectual and developmental disabilities, we know that a person with any disability is at an increased risk for sexual violence because predators target what they see as vulnerabilities. While we know that sexual assault is common in the United States, we also know that perpetrators receiving jail time is far less common. For every 1000 perpetrators in the United States, only 5 will end up in prison (RAINN.org). This sends a message to perpetrators that they can commit these crimes and get away with it. We should see this as a call to action. We need to send our own message to perpetrators. By putting prevention measures in place that include a combination of policy, training and environmental change, we send a message to perpetrators that they will get caught and will not get away with abuse under our watch. As we create spaces for these conversations, perpetrators will begin to hear these messages and will be deterred from abusing in our communities.
It’s up to you to take the next step. Ask any agencies that you are involved with what their policies are around sexual violence. Ask them how they are keeping consumers like you and your loved ones safe. If you don’t like the answers you receive, let them know that CORD is here to help. All they need to do is call CORD at 508-775-8300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merrill Pontes, RPE Grant Coordinator