It’s still dehumanizing, and it still allows people in positions of power to maintain power by intimidating people into silence.
Nondisabled people, however, may not be sensitive to how certain kinds of remarks and actions may be harassment for disabled people.
For example, comments about—or attempts to touch—mobility devices can take on a sexualized element, as can intrusive questions about how someone has sex, invasive speculation about someone’s body, or expressions of surprise that someone is married or in a relationship.
Lozano isn’t harassed because of her disability status, but rather because she’s a woman in a male-dominated industry.
But as someone who uses a service dog and is open about her disability, she often isn’t fully represented in conversations about these issues.
And as disabled people are desexualized or their reports of violence are dismissed, it becomes harder for them to seek justice for assault.
As disabled writer Grace Lapointe told Rewire, “The sexual predator who assaulted me as an adult explicitly said that my disability made me a great target!
As Sauder pointed out, disablism often takes the form of infantilizing disabled people: treating them as exceptional because of their disability status.
The popular notion that cruelty to disabled people is “beyond the pale” perpetuates the idea that sexual harassment and assault don’t happen in the disability community, she said, because of the widespread belief that “who would do such a thing?
” Society has created a perfect storm, Lapointe says: Poor outreach and education may also make it difficult for disabled people to identify what they are experiencing as inappropriate, which further exposes them to abuse.
In some cases, disabled people are even deprived of the language they need to report the crime, as in the case of those who use augmentative communication, but don’t have words like “rape” or “genitals” on their communication boards to express what they are experiencing.
It always feels, Sauder said, that abuse stems from “a family member, or a private employee who’s providing care. He’s a myth.” Thompson says that information about sexual abuse in the disability community is readily available, and hashtags like #Me Too could be used to raise awareness, which is a key step in fighting it.
“People seem shocked,” she said, when she makes fellow social workers aware of the issue, adding, “The information is out there, and now you need to be accountable for using it in your work.” For social workers and activists alike, she argues, that includes exploring how sexual harassment and violence may look different for members of the disability community, despite still being fundamentally about exercising power and control.
Overall, participation in a hashtag like this can be a fraught experience: People may fear reprisal, shaming, or other consequences if they speak out, and these issues can be more pressing for people from underrepresented groups.