Earlier this year, I participated in a special project through the Alliance of the Disability Advocates, which is the Center for Independent Living in the Raleigh, NC region. It was called the Me Too project. The goal of the project was to increase empathy and support within the disability community. Various individuals with an assortment of disabilities shared their own personal stories. I was filmed to talk about my life as a way to encourage others who may have cerebral palsy or other types disabilities. At the beginning of each person’s segment, the individual states their name followed by the tagline, “Me Too.” A couple of months after my video came out (https://vimeo.com/232980207), Alyssa Milano and numerous actresses started the #MeToo movement which went viral. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the #MeToo movement is a way to show how prevalent sexual assault has become, not only in Hollywood and the media but society in general. The premise behind the movement is to have women (and men) to share their stories of sexual assault on their social media accounts using “#MeToo.”
As a result of this movement, lots of prominent men have been ousted and have lost their prestigious positions throughout all of society. Actors, politicians, news reporters, music moguls, entertainers, and chefs were not shielded from the wrath of this very justified cultural reckoning. When this first occurred, I made light of the way the #MeToo movement swallowed all the attention from the “Me Too” videos that I was involved in. The deeper I think about the issue, the more I realize that the two movements fit together very well. The fact is that many people with disabilities experience sexual assault, especially if that disability has an intellectual component. According to documents found on The Arc website:
“People with severe intellectual disability may not understand what is happening or have a way to communicate the assault to a trusted person. Others with a less severe disability may realize they are being assaulted, but don’t know that it’s illegal and that they have a right to say no. Due to threats to their well-being or that of their loved ones by the abuser, they may never tell anyone about the abuse, especially if committed by an authority figure whom they learn not to question. In addition, they are rarely educated about sexuality issues or provided assertiveness training. Even when a report is attempted, they face barriers when making statements to police because they may not be viewed as credible due to having a disability.”
I have been fortunate to have staff members of high character, so, for the most part, I have no direct experience of that kind of abuse. With the benefit of hindsight, I know of at least one inappropriate conversation sometime in the 3rd grade. My assistant at the time was a woman, and she was trying to lose weight. She kept saying to me how sexy she would be after the weight loss and how popular I would be with the other students because of my association with her. Like they talk about in The Arc article, I never mentioned that incident, and she was eventually fired for other unprofessional behavior. Looking back, that was probably a blessing, because I don’t know what that would have led to.
Since this blog is about disability and sexual assault, I need to talk about one of the apologies given by a former president who was accused for inappropriately touching women. Two women came forth with accusations against former President George H.W. Bush for touching their behinds during photo ops and telling the off-color joke stating that his favorite magician was “David Cop-a-Feel.“ I need to preface this by thanking President Bush for his work on the ADA, and he will always have an important legacy in the disability rights movement. He gave an apology through his spokesperson that stated:
“At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”
I’ll just state that I’ve been “confined” to a wheelchair longer he has. Although I don’t like the word confined, that’s beside the point. I’ve never used my being in a wheelchair as an excuse or pretense to grab someone inappropriately or used my disability to cover up a sexual assault charge. It seems to me like an easy cop-out. I imagine I feel similar to the way LGBT individuals might feel about Kevin Spacey trying to cover up his behavior by coming out after allegations of sexual misconduct. It appears he has received a ton of criticism from the gay community and has even led to him losing many acting opportunities, basically ending his career.
It was long overdue for this movement to surface. I was surprised by how many of my friends who were brave enough to come out with their #MeToo stories and I support them completely. Their stories were the catalyst for me to write on this topic. Hopefully, there will be a paradigm shift in those who wield some type of power and lead to fewer acts of sexual misconduct. I just don’t want people with disabilities to be forgotten in this important moment for our society, both in this country and in the world.
That’s How I Roll…….