#MeToo Movement and the Disabled

#MeToo movement has taken a solid foothold in our society and is awe-inspiring. The responses and resulting changes are a line in the sand regarding Women’s Rights and Victims Rights. It screams we will no longer “accept the abuse and like it” -NOT ANYMORE! I now add #MeTooDisabled.

As a woman of minority heritage, the plight of gaining fair, equal and ethical rights at times feels impossible to acquire. Both in regards to general equality, but also in gaining equal coverage and attention when reports of victims surface. Having already suffered the crime the intense pain of being dismissed is unbearable. I have experienced this intimately.

There is an uncomfortable, yet an absolutely real entrenched culture that minority women’s suffering has less value and carries less urgency to stop. Especially in regards to African-American women. In fact, any women who are perceived as African-American, regardless of accuracy, are thrown into the same misfortune. There is no other word than tragic to describe it.

It’s all about what others think they are seeing. My ethnic origins are primarily French, Welsh, English, Irish, and the minority Bantu. All people see is the Bantu. As such, I am not spared the at times extreme hate too often endured. But there is another entire population who are in many situations far more at risk, and vulnerable to exploitation—the disabled.

Regardless of background, conditions such as social economic status, disability & handicap, those suffering cognitive disorders (developmental, intellectual), and significant mental health disease, have victim bullseyes on their backs. The preconditioning to suffer is profound and the exposure extensive.

Within the disabled home, home health agency services are likely to be rendered at some point. Whether it is a nurse, medical social worker, respite staff, therapist or an employed caretaker, the opportunity for abuse is there. It happens beyond the traditional workplace and provides the perpetrators’ favorite condition —isolation.

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We are talking about a class of victims who are often homebound, mobility challenged, suffer significant handicap, may endure periods of time tethered to medical devices/equipment, such as home infusion systems and dialysis units. Many have ongoing frailty where physical strength is very limited and it takes little force to injure or restrain us.

These conditions create an ever increasing base of potential victims who may not be able to even verbalize their attacks or identify abusers easily. The blind can not list facial features. The deaf can not repeat back what the attacker said during the assault which could provide critical information. You can read more here

There are additional highly specialized situations to consider. Those suffering medically altered states (stroke, seizures, high cranial pressures, sedating medications etc) who may not be able to speak in a way others can easily understand. This includes non-verbal patients whose disease prevents speaking. The opportunity is far too immense and it is not being discussed right now. We are invisible victims.

I can openly go on the record. I have suffered workplace sexual abuse during the years of my earliest employment and late in my corporate career after my disability made walking and pulling away too hard. Debasing abuse during my nearly 20-year marriage to a pastor, and sexual assault by a physician when incapacitated during a medical crisis.

Illness makes all parts of life hard but for me, the abuse worsened when tragedy both physically and medically disabled me.

I landed in a situation where I was in a wheelchair from a spinal cord injury attending a newborn who was medically fragile, and 4-year-old with a then-recent traumatic brain injury.

It served as a perfectly balanced toxic soup of abuse. “Lack of faith” accusations, we’re given as excuses to drown out my cries and prevent intervention by others. And even worse went on. What I wanted or was even medically safe to perform or engage in meant nothing.

Outsiders who interacted with me and our congregation were all too willing to excuse away what they were seeing and hearing. There was no desire on their part to learn the truth. I was unable to defend myself, was unable to be present when the lies were being told. Our isolation at home meant outsiders could not even come into the home as witnesses. After all…the kids and I we were sick…right?

So what hope do the disabled have with so much stacked against them? Who believes the disabled elderly woman with emerging dementia, whose male home health worker inserts his finger in her vagina while bathing her? It is excused away by poor memory or misunderstanding the bathing process.

Parent’s adult daughter with intellectual developmental delay/disorder (IDD), who at times is combative if anxious, reports the home health worker purposely gropes her breast restraining her under the guise of keeping her safe or calming her “outburst”. But who takes the crime seriously without humiliating challenges of her honesty, dismissing the entire complaint?

Family caretakers and parents already fatigued and overwhelmed often end up praising home health abusers as saving the family. Pre-existing hardship creates a fertile foundation for all sorts of abuse. We need to think deeply about that because people like me are invisible. We were invisible before the crime, so who notices.

I can list of hundreds of situations families share with Angels of Our October. Terrifying and to the point I almost don’t want to hear any more. But I must…We must listen. #MeToo must include the #MeTooDisabled and realize the workplace extends past the traditional ones and in the disabled’s home. Terror and rage are what you feel when people blame the assault on your disability. The hopelessness is enough to make death seem preferable to the abandonment you receive instead. I am not alone.

Let’s be honest, it’s far more convenient to rationalize abuse as just “stress” in the marriage, relationship, workplace or home life. Or that the disabled person got worse on their own. People simply can not get past the deceptions and tend to believe what is easiest to accept, even when completely false.

Abusers are counting on that. Worse, they work very hard to groom people around to favor them through charm, gifts, and feigned concern. There is the intention to sway potential witnesses way ahead of the criminal acts they eventually do. Predators such as these manipulate everything around them to build a culture that can and will support their darkness with an encouraged, even rewarded blind eye.

Some in society want to be absorbed of the responsibility to aid a victim, make effort to challenge a leader or make a sacrifice personally. Too many simply do not want to take on the perceived “risk” of becoming a focus of retaliation, risk reputation as a trouble maker, or scared they somehow will be embarrassed. There is common resistance and reluctance to believe the disabled victim.

Thankfully, that does not describe all people. There are extraordinary individuals who will look past their own needs to stand up for the victims, and those at risk of becoming victims. Champions for the changes necessary to protect those most vulnerable, and I praise them highly.

I applaud the bravery and courage of the many women and some men who speak out and identify their abusers. Some may want to shut us up. It would be easier to remain quiet…for them. It takes energy, lots of it, to pursue justice in a society more obsessed with self-interest than what is right.

I vow to use my platform, however small it may be, to be an outspoken voice of the victim. I will actively work towards solutions that best protect the disabled and educate others. I vow to comfort fellow survivors and make the truth my priority. I will stand with the #MeToo community and advocate for my #MeTooDisabled fellows.

Be sure to Follow the Blog and stay up to date on the series.

If you are actively in danger, please reach out for help RIGHT NOW, and dial 911. If you are currently safe, but scared and unsure where to start, you can use the hotlines below. Trained people are standing by who can stay on the line while help is coordinated. Conversations are anonymous, and you will not be pressured to do more than you are willing. Please reach out and learn what steps to SAFELY take today.

Picture of Blog Author Pamela Juers
Author-Pamela Juers

The American Association of the Deaf and Blind http://www.aadb.org/

National Center on Deaf and Blind https://nationaldb.org/

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