Sexual Assault & Students with a Disability

“The hidden victims of campus sexual assault: Students with disabilities”

“Even Gallaudet University, designed specifically for deaf students, can get it wrong when it comes to rape”

“Nationally, research has shown that individuals with disabilities experience sexual assault at significantly higher rates than the general population and that they also face critical gaps in services when they seek help for abuse. At the same time, experts say, schools have yet to adequately assess or address the issue on their campuses. “

“Al Jazeera America’s six-month investigation into sexual violence at Gallaudet — which included interviews with a dozen current or former students who say they were sexually assaulted, senior Gallaudet administrators, Title IX and disability experts, and an analysis of the university’s judicial board actions — reveals that even a school explicitly designed for students with disabilities can struggle in dealing with sexual assault.”

One story:

“Melissa thought his [Mike’s] behavior was creepy, and she reported him to Gallaudet’s Department of Public Safety. Since he wasn’t a student, she hoped DPS would bar Mike from campus. Instead, she says, the DPS officer she met with didn’t take her seriously: “He was sort of casual.” He started asking Melissa questions about her blindness, she says, and whether she could really know if she was being stalked. “If you couldn’t see him,” Melissa says the officer asked her, “how do you know it was Mike stalking you, and not someone else?”

“Yes, she was blind, but Melissa had other ways of identifying people, she insisted. She gave the officer details about the roughness of his hands when he signed to her, the things he said to her, and even offered to show him his Facebook profile picture. But without visual identification, Melissa says, the DPS officer told her there was no way they could pursue the claim or bar Mike.”

Another story:

“The two women, whose names and some identifying features have been changed, began dating. But within a month and a half, Alma says, their relationship took a turn. It began with a light punch. As a survivor of abuse growing up, Alma told Lisa the punch triggered bad memories.

Alma says Lisa suggested that it was playful and described growing up in a difficult home. Feeling guilty, Alma scolded herself for not being sensitive enough.

But over the course of their five-and-a-half-month relationship, the abuse escalated, she says. If Lisa felt Alma spoke too loudly, she would pinch her. And when Alma reacted, she says, Lisa would snap, “Oh my God, do you know how awful you sound?”

Alma had no idea what her voice sounded like, but she did know that the fastest way to disempower her was to demean the way she spoke. “The verbal insults became the root of the relationship,” Alma recalls. “Before I knew it, I was getting in trouble for talking to my friends.” [It gets worse.]

“But the worst part, she says, were the questions the other officer asked her.

““Are you sure you were raped?”

““You call that rape?”

““Do you know what the definition of ‘rape’ is?””

On how the university handles sexual assault:

“in October, an article in the university’s newspaper told an unnamed survivor’s account of why she didn’t report assault. “It had nothing to do with how the university would handle it,” the piece began. “But it had everything to do with me being embarrassed.” Later, it continued, “I’ve seen how Gallaudet has improved in how they handle sexual assault and rape cases, and I have faith in how they run the system.” But while the university was being defended by its students, it was also trying to block the reporting that led to this article. During this investigation, Gallaudet, and representatives from a communications firm it hired, reached out to Al Jazeera America on several occasions to express concern about contacting sources for this story.

““We’ve all been dismissed as being the exception individually, even by people who are sympathetic and open to listening to our story,” explains one student who says she was groped by an unknown assailant one night. “People don’t want to see it as common [because] it’s scary. For one, it means it can happen to them. It also means admitting there is something wrong with a system they are a part of … Gallaudet is such a safe place in other ways, nobody wants to admit that there is an ugly underbelly.”” -Alma

 

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