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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Two women are eating food at a table.
Two women are eating food at a table.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By: Camiel Silvas and Emma Martin

Content Warning: The blog post below mentions sexual assault, sexual violence, and ableism, although not in graphic or gratuitous detail.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As this month comes to a close, The Center for Independent Living wants to highlight the intersections of sexual assault, survivorship, and cross-disability communities. We know that disabled people are three times more likely to experience sexual assault or sexual violence than able-bodied people, according to the National Crime Victimization survey, and that people with multiple disabilities are even more likely to experience sexual assault or sexual violence. We also know that this type of violence often goes unreported or underreported. Thus sexual assault and sexual violence is likely more prevalent in our communities than statistics can reflect. The Center for Independent Living is in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence. We aim to be an active partner in creating worlds where survivors feel safe and empowered and have access to an abundance of resources, accountability, and healing. We are also committed to transforming cultures of power and systems of exploitation and domination that bolster sexual violence, with ultimate visions of relationships and communities where sexual assault no longer occurs.

People with Disabilities and Sexual Violence:

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual assault is defined as any type of unwanted sexual contact, including words and actions of a sexual nature, against a person’s will or without their consent. Consent is an interactive and ongoing process of communicating one’s needs, desires, and physical and emotional boundaries with another person. We believe firmly that all forms of sexual assault are never a survivor’s fault.

There are many reasons why people with disabilities experience sexual assault at higher rates than able-bodied people. Many of these reasons are rooted in ableism, which is the system of power that oppresses, devalues, and discriminates against people with disabilities, and upholds societal beliefs that being ‘abled’ is normal and is preferred. Sexual assault against people with disabilities can occur in the form of–but is not limited to–lack of respect for one’s privacy or physical and emotional autonomy, unwanted exposure during routine caregiving, sexual coercion by withholding caregiving and/or supportive devices, forced abortion and sterilization, exploitation of, and more.

For example, people who perpetrate sexual assault often target those they perceive as vulnerable. We live in a society that simultaneously perpetuates ableist stereotypes of disabled people as vulnerable, dependent, or less valuable. People who perpetrate sexual assault might also target people with disabilities because they are less likely to be believed if they do report the violence; for example, someone with a disability might be told that they are “cr*zy”, or that they don’t remember an incident accurately. Further, there are harmful societal beliefs that people with disabilities are not sexual beings or could never be desired, and thus could never experience sexual assault or sexual violence. Similarly, some people with disabilities are not given access to comprehensive sexual education because of these ableist attitudes towards sexuality and thus might not have equitable information about what sexual assault is, or what affirmative and ongoing consent looks like. Some people with disabilities work with caregivers–whether hired caregivers or friends, family members, or intimate partners providing care–to get their daily living activities and access needs met, and sometimes caregivers can exploit this relationship. For example, a caregiver might withhold, or threaten to withhold, care unless a sexual demand is met; this is coercive and not consensual! Finally, people with disabilities might have difficulty communicating about an assault–whether to a sexual assault response non-profit, law enforcement, or elsewhere–due to the inaccessibility of websites and intake forms, lack of interpreters, or fear of not being believed and supported.

Sexual Assault and Disability on College Campuses:

The CIL’s Youth Program wanted to highlight the intersection of cross-disability communities and sexual assault on college campuses. In 2018 the National Council on Disability (NCDI) submitted a report titled Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities. The report was the first to examine data–including prevalence and disparities–regarding sexual assault survivors with disabilities. Ultimately, the report was a call to action for colleges and universities, Congress, and federal agencies to enact more inclusive policy changes that centered the increased risk of sexual assault disabled college students face. Historically, college sexual assault data excluded the disabled population as a specific identity. Research indicates that students with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual assault than their able-bodied peers. A recent study by the Association of American Universities, which included 27 universities and over 150,000 participants, found that 31.6% of cisgender women undergraduates with a disability experienced sexual assault, compared to 18.4% of able-bodied cisgender women undergraduates. The study also found that 34.4% of TGQN* (trans, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, questioning) undergraduates with a disability experienced sexual assault, compared to 20% of able-bodied TGQN (trans, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, questioning) undergraduates.

*The Association of American Universities report used the language of TGQN (trans, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, questioning) in their study and subsequent report, and The Center for Independent Living reflects that language for the accuracy of their statistical findings.

Action Steps and Resources:

We believe that the greatest impact we can have as communities in response to sexual assault against people with disabilities is critically engaging with ableism and deepening our understanding of how ableism is connected to racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, and other systems of domination. Additionally, individuals, communities, and organizations can:

  • Ensure that sexual assault resources and services are both physically and programmatically accessible for individuals with disabilities. The Radical Access Mapping Project has a comprehensive donation-based accessibility audit that organizations can use!
  • Ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided, and access needs are met during the process of reporting sexual assault and sexual violence, whether that’s to a non-profit organization, or law enforcement, or trusted community members.
  • Make sure online forms and websites are screenreader compatible, and that printed materials are accessible for Blind/low vision survivors
  • Have immediate access to ASL interpreters who are competent in handling reports of sexual assault
  • Check that survivor-centered spaces are accessible to people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices
  • Commit to deepening learning about the particular dynamics of sexual assault and sexual violence and people with disabilities and understanding why people with specific disabilities (such as psychiatric disabilities or intellectual/developmental disabilities) might have different levels of access to justice.
  • Share the RAINN guidelines on evaluating potential caregivers with your communities.
  • Believe and affirm all survivors!

Bay Area Resources:

If you, or someone you know, is looking for support regarding sexual violence in the Bay Area, and/or if you’re interested in learning more about the dynamics of sexual violence, we have listed some resources below.

Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)

BAWAR offers 24/7 peer support and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, and provides community education around sexual assault.


Contact: 24/7 Hotline in English and Spanish: 510-345-1056 or

San Francisco Women Against Rape (SFWAR)

SFWAR provides resources, support, advocacy, and education to strengthen the work of all individuals and communities in San Francisco that are responding to, healing from, and struggling to end sexual violence. SFWAR has its own Disability and Deaf Services program that specifically supports disabled survivors of violence.


Contact: 24/7 Hotline 415-647-7273 or

Communities United Against Violence (CUAV)

CUAV supports the healing of LGBTQIA+ people who have experienced violence and abuse by other people and/or institutions. CUAV provides peer advocacy counseling, support groups and healing initiatives, and community education around the intersections of violence and other systems of power under which we live.


Contact: 415-777-5500 or

Family Violence Law Center (FVLC)

FVLC seeks to end family violence in Alameda County by providing support and advocacy for survivors of violence, and advocating for justice and healthy relationships. FVLC provides survivor-centered legal services and crisis intervention and also offers prevention education to youth and other community members.


Contact: 24/7 Hotline 1-800-947-8301

TTY 1-800-735-2929

A Safe Place

A Safe Place is a comprehensive domestic violence center serving survivors in Alameda County. It operates a 24/7 crisis shelter, mental health services, and legal services, re-entry support, and community education and outreach.


Contact: 24/7 Hotline 510-536-7233

Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC)

BATJC is a community group based in Oakland working to build and support transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. BATJC envisions a world where everyday people can intervene in incidences of child sexual abuse in ways that meet immediate needs and prevent future violence and harm. BATJC offers a wealth of learning resources about transformative justice responses to violence in our communities.


Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence, and created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with over 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country.


Contact: 24/7 Hotline 800-656-4673

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