Crime and Disability: Sex Crimes

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As a woman with a disability, I was victimized more than once. I first had to learn not to blame myself.  Then how to protect myself.

Trigger/Content Warning:  Rape and Sexual Assault

When I was in law school, on Valentine’s Day, I spent the day protesting the holiday with my best friend, as both of us were single. He drank copious amounts of wine (3 bottles, to be exact), and I had three glasses, which was, admittedly, too much for my 90-pound frame. So, to protect him, I permitted him to sleep over, rather than drive home under the influence. I went to sleep, only to wake up to him taking off my clothes and ultimately raping me. Despite saying “no” repeatedly, he continued. Due to my disability, I couldn’t fight back.  I couldn’t even push him or quickly sit up. Instead, I froze and disassociated.

After it was over, he kindly permitted me to go to the bathroom and rinse the blood off, but when I exited the bathroom, he was still lying on my bed. I knew I couldn’t return to another round, but I also couldn’t kick him out to drive so intoxicated. Despite what he did to me, he had been my best friend for years. I couldn’t send him to his death. So, I told him I would spend the rest of the night on my couch. Oddly, he offered to sleep there instead.

He left my room, and I quickly followed to lock the door behind him. But, it didn’t prevent the impending horror. I had to return to my blood-soaked bed.  Due to my inability to change my own bedding, I had to lie in the remnants of the criminal betrayal I just endured.  After he had left the next morning, in shock, I called my classmate and best girl friend, barely able to utter the words of what transpired, I asked her if she could come over and help me change and wash my bedding. She rushed over and took the bedding off as quickly as possible, as I showered the signs of trauma from my body.

The beautiful silk pillow my mother made for me was ruined from blood that could never be removed. But far worse, so was my soul. I didn’t just lose my best friend. I lost my sense of safety. I lost my ability to make male friendships and relationships. I lost the ability to have a normal sexual experience or even Pap smear ever again. And I lost my self-worth.

Ariella sitting in her wheelchair with hands crossed on lap with head down with a white house in beackground

Ariella Barker by Tirzah Photography

 

I blamed myself for drinking, for letting a man sleep in my apartment, for not screaming, for not scratching him, for letting him drink so much, for everything. I knew it couldn’t have been about my clothing because I had sweats and no makeup on. But, nevertheless, I changed my entire life routine.

I always dressed modestly. I never allowed myself to be close friends with a man, and if I did, I would not be alone with him, ever, much less drink alcohol with them. The only exception I made is if I decided to date someone, only because I felt that the potential benefit of possible marriage outweighed the danger of rape. And if I ever consumed alcohol, I made sure I wasn’t alone, certainly not with a man.

None of it worked. I was relentlessly stalked by anyone from strangers to ex-boyfriends. I was felt up by strangers, healthcare workers, and most certainly dates. Once, a drunk man followed me onto a train at Grand Central Station, harassed me on the train and attempted to follow me off at my stop until he was confronted by the police I called beforehand on a hunch. (There were perks to representing the NYPD). I even had a young man follow me onto a bus, appearing to use Canadian crutches. After he followed me off the bus and followed my friend and me for a mile, running, holding his crutches like ski poles, did my male friend go after him until he disappeared.

But then the worst happened. One night, the last bus wasn’t accessible, and I was an hour’s walking distance from home with a dying chair and phone battery. A stranger in a utility truck approached me, dressed like a religious Jew, as I was, and offered to take me home. Because of his appearance and the fact he had a utility vehicle with, as he claimed, a ramp, I agreed. I met him a block away, where he met me in a more remote location, and immediately, I knew something was wrong because he immediately began to rub my back, and Orthodox Jews don’t touch the opposite sex. I quickly changed my mind, but he didn’t. He molested me and was preparing to rape me, intensifying the molestation. I kept telling him my friends were coming to pick me up, but no one was nearby. He then put one arm under my legs and went to put his other arm under my shoulders to pick me up out of my chair.  I knew he was about to kidnap me and that I couldn’t fight back, but I could use my brain. I grabbed my joystick and sped my chair in a circle, knocking him off his center.

At that moment, a car was driving toward the nearby light. I said, “it’s my friends!” Even though I knew it wasn’t, he didn’t, and he ran like the wind to his truck and sped away. I sat on the corner shaking, wondering if he would return. Right as I saw his truck circle back, an ambulance arrived with my friends on board. I was so relieved, but they looked at me, and without a word, they knew. I could do nothing but shake and cry.

They took me home and called the police. The police did nothing. They faulted me for not noticing his license plate. I pointed out all the things he touched and asked them to fingerprint, but they refused. They just gave me the number to the rape crisis counseling center.

After a terrifying trip to the clinic, thinking I saw him everywhere, I told the counselors, “what’s wrong with me?  I’ve been raped before. What am I doing wrong?”  They told me that disabled women are just easy targets. But it wasn’t until a study was released last year by RespectAbility, in their white paper on criminal justice and disability, announcing that 80% of disabled women are sexually assaulted (those with cognitive disabilities had the highest rates of total violent crime), often several times, that I realized just how pervasive it was.  In short, this made me understand that we were more of a target to sexual predators. It wasn’t me. It is my disability.

My Personal Advice:

Nondisabled women are often victimized, but disabled women are statistically more vulnerable to sex offenders. My long and sad history of victimization have taught me to avoid these events in the future, to the point where I can sense impending violence long before others do. We don’t need to stop living like I did for so long, just recognize the signs and be wise.

Like my rape, 97% of victims are sexually assaulted by someone they know and trust. This is also most prevalent with younger victims, with those ages 12 to 15 having the highest rates of violent victimization among those with disabilities.

a child in a wheelchair smiling by a lake with woman pushing her from behind

Ariella as a child at MDA Summer Camp

black and white photo of woman with a scarf tied on head looking to the side with a slight smile

Ariella Barker today

Here are some tips (many are equally relevant to men):

  • While this shouldn’t be true, as a disabled woman, I avoid getting intoxicated when alone with men. What we lack in strength, we need to be able to make up for in smarts. Intoxication erases that.
  • Keep your eyes open at all times, and scan your environment for possible vulnerability.
  • Never allow a man to follow behind you on the street for longer than a block. Slow down, and always let them pass you. If they refuse to pass you or play the game of falling back and then passing repeatedly, he’s a predator. Yell at him to alert those around you. They typically run off. If they don’t, quickly go into a store, restaurant, etc., and in the meantime, get on your phone.
  • Consider using a safety app for your cell phone.  Here are some options to consider.
  • If walking alone, put earbuds in to make it appear that you’re on the phone, and don’t ever play music so loud that you can’t hear your surroundings
  • Don’t assume you can trust someone because he is disabled, handsome (Ted Bundy was handsome), religious or whatever form of harmless you presume. Anyone could bring you harm.
  • Don’t ever let a man you don’t know pick you up at your home. Meet him at a public location.
  • Before entering into a relationship with someone, run a background check on and google him (you’d be amazed at how many men you meet who have long rap sheets) I use Been Verified App.
  • Don’t walk alone at night in remote areas. Call a taxi or the police. If you are scared or nervous, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  • Be cautious when using Uber and Lyft, if you can even use these services. These companies have not yet been shown to run accurate and consistent background checks on their drivers.
  • Use your brain. Most sex offenders aren’t very smart, particularly during the act. They are just as scared of being caught as you are of being raped.
  • Men who get up close and personal way too early, inappropriately so, be firm with them and get out of their path.
  • Trust your gut. Humans are the only animal, which don’t trust their gut, and we suffer as a result. If you have a bad vibe, get out of the situation or do not get into a place where your gut is telling you not to trust.

Resources and Additional Information

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Statistical Analysis and conclusions:

Statistics on Crime against people with disabilities

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/datasources.html

How to Prevent a Potential Rape

Impact Self Defense offers Inclusive programs for all abilities.

Ariella Barker

Ariella Barker, Esq.received her BBA and JD from Emory University. She worked for many years representing the City of NY and Mayor Bloomberg in employment discrimination lawsuits. She was Ms. Wheelchair NC 2014.

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