Women with disabilities face non-traditional and hard to recognize forms of violence where the abuser is most often someone we depend on for help. Given how often we have to depend on others to push our wheelchairs and take us to different places, we become susceptible to being controlled and abused by those same people who take on the caring role in our lives. Often times, we cannot talk about our abuse because we carry the shame of the addiction within us. Instead, we often find ourselves having to keep relying on our attacker, especially in unfamiliar spaces, because there is no escape for us.
Women with disabilities often find themselves trapped in a space at the mercy of someone who controls our movement, our ability to go certain places, our ability to dress – everything. An underlying fear then marks the experience of the disabled body, simply because the addiction may be mistaken for advances in the search for love, or the person in control of your whole life may turn on us.
The worst part is that very often there is nothing we can do about it physically, because our body cannot move at our own command.
Read also : Taking Up Space: Reclaiming the Physical Realms as a Form of Disabled Dissent
Dialogues about people with disabilities #MeToo in the feminist movement have been rare and #DisabledWomenRiot is a campaign that seeks to change that. By deliberating on a discourse on the lived experiences and community of women with disabilities, non-binary and trans people, we seek to express ourselves, express ourselves, express ourselves and communicate in the ways that are right for us about our abuse. : the specific nuances, logistics and social location of the abuse that is often overlooked and unrecognized in the larger feminist universe.
Here I am going to talk about my abuse, in particular situating myself as a homosexual, physically disabled woman who has dated cis-het men all her life (yes, that still doesn’t invalidate my bisexuality – I don’t ‘ need to “do” something with a woman to be considered bisexual and prove my identity to a heteronormative world), I have suffered various forms of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional and mental. I would also like to clarify how it was the experience: I speak only for myself.
The thing with cis-het men is that my agency is challenged every now and then.
How do we get past the superficial evidence of abuse in deep shades, the ingrained ableism of seeing women with disabilities not as human beings, but as objects of novelty? Objects that only exist to show the world how Well these men are there to make room for these âpoorâ, âparalyzedâ women in their lives. These are women that no one wants or desires. These are women who deserve only the bare minimum and probably not even that. These are women who will be there no matter what, because it’s not like they can get up and go somewhere. Women with disabilities are often seen in the light of purity and innocence: they have no choice, they cannot cheat, they are dependent. What happens when we want to say no, but we can’t? What if we are deaf or have a speech impediment that makes us too overwhelmed in intimate situations and struggle with limits? Is the solution simply to stop engaging in sexual intimacy? Why should we? Why should the responsibility lie with us?
Abusive cis-het men can mold women with disabilities into any shape they desire. The man I was dating gradually took over and policing all areas of my life: what I wore, what I ate, who I interacted with, who I spoke to on social media, who my friends were, what I told my parents, etc. Women with disabilities face forms of abuse that are rooted in our basic needs. Sometimes our abuser is a partner who becomes our self-proclaimed caregiver. We therefore depend on them for our basic needs: whether it is taking medication on time, going to the toilet, moving in public spaces, moving in private spaces.
My abuser quickly started to control everything and my internalized ableism kept convincing me that this man is kind, generous, caring for me and doing me a great service because no one else sees me as desirable. So I felt compelled to be thankful that he finds me desirable despite my disability and that he wants to engage in sexual intimacy with me, even though I am “ugly and disabled”. Women with disabilities learn from an early age to be grateful for the help they receive in their lives, as their existence is viewed as fundamentally undesirable. They are a burden on their parents who cannot marry them or give them an education. With this mindset, we grow up lacking in self-confidence and are taught to depend on others for our happiness. We would be made to believe that we will never be enough for ourselves.
I noticed that my abuse was intrinsically linked to my physical disability, logistics and the social situation in which I found myself. Many times I have encountered a situation where I am at the mercy of someone else in a public space. This then translates into how I shouldn’t show dissent, shouldn’t disagree with them, and shouldn’t be in a conflict situation. I should follow the line of the stereotypical idea of ââthe ideal disabled woman – non-assertive, a calm and obedient “good” girl. I say a disabled girl here and not women because we are defeminized and deprived of fundamental aspects of femininity, of the concept of disabled femininity and lost in a sea of ââinaudible marginalized feminist voices.
The 60-year-old non-disabled man who kissed me on the cheek said: “But I was drunk!” and âI treat all 19 year olds the same! “ He claimed that he treated everyone the same seemingly fatherly and intimate way and that I was just overreacting. Her 20 year old son also agreed as I wiped away my tears because no one believed me. I washed my hair several times with handfuls of shampoo to wash her kiss on my forehead: a kiss I never wanted.
I felt the same when a stranger took my inability to button my shirt due to my disability as a suggestion for him to unbutton it and give him access to my naked disabled body.
Read also : Internalized capacity, self-blame, self-hatred and bodily shame
The first time I fell in love was with an emotionally abusive and neglectful person. âBut at least he’s not sexually abusing me. At least he’s nice to me. At least he gives me the agency. At least, at least, at least …
The reason I didn’t say no when my first boyfriend forcibly slapped me in my bed under the pretext of being “naughty” or he “accidentally” gave me a black eye, or that he emotionally manipulated me into sex, it’s because I kept thinkingââI hope it will stop soon, I don’t want to displease him. Right now I’m safe, but what if I angered him? “
Featured Image Source: Alia Sinha