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In the wake of the Harvey W. scandal there has been an outpouring of solidarity among women on social media who are using #MeToo to self-identify their many experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault.

While the chorus is beautifully loud and strong, no doubt there are groups women who have not joined in for various reasons. One of those groups might be women with developmental disabilities, simply because there are many barriers to the freedom of expressing #MeToo.

There is much evidence that shows the sexual abuse of persons, particularly women, with disabilities is a normative experience and they perhaps should have a spot at the front of, or at least among the chorus.

Personal safety, along with other well-being and quality of life standards that we take for granted in the typical Canadian population, is not often available to people with developmental disabilities. These quality of life standards include not only living safely but having the ability to earn and keep income, to live free of poverty, to live in adequate housing and to have health needs sufficiently met.

As a society we accept that a low quality of life as the standard for persons with developmental disabilities. Not only is it generally accepted but it is engineered by the social policies and planning that blanket grinding poverty over this group. And research shows there is an undeniable link between poverty and sexual violence.  

While this time of #MeToo feels hopeful of a social and cultural shift towards a safer world for women and girls. Any interventions and the prevention of sexual violence needs to include economic advocacy and poverty reduction. And we, as individual caring Canadians, our communities, our decision and policy makers must not leave behind women, and men, with developmental disabilities who live with their personal safety at extreme risk every day.

  • Among adults who are developmentally disabled, as many as 83% of the females and 32% of the males are the victims of sexual assault
  • 49% of people with developmental disabilities who are victims of sexual violence will experience 10 or more abusive incidents.
  • 38% of women with disabilities who have been married experienced sexual violence by their partner
  • Only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported.
  • 88 to 98% of sexual abusers are male and are known by the victim/survivor who has disabilities.
  • 33% of abusers or acquaintances, 33% are natural or foster family members, and 25% are caregivers or service providers.

(from the Wisconsin Coalition Agains Sexual Assault)