Many survivors of sexual violence have decried the failures of law enforcement agencies to provide them with adequate care or a sense of justice. For Kecia Weller, those failures were multiplied by her experience as a person with disabilities.
Weller was mortified when, in the wake of reporting her abuse, she found that the responses of law enforcement and social services agencies compounded her trauma. “I felt like I was being victimized not just by the offender, but the system that is supposed to protect me,” Weller told Ms. “I learned most the system designed to support survivors was not able to and resisted providing me with support since they had little or no experience working with a women with a developmental disability.”
Weller is a disability rights advocate who has spent the last thirty years fighting to improve criminal justice and adult protective services addressing the abuse of people with disabilities. She currently serves on multiple councils and boards—including the California State Rehabilitation Council and the Statewide Self-Advocacy Network for the UCLA Tarjan Center, University Center Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD)—and frequently provides testimony to state and federal legislators to inform them about the issues that are affecting people with disabilities.
Statistics show that people with disabilities are four to ten times more likely to experience rape and sexual assault than people without disabilities; about 70 percent of people with disabilities report that they have been victims of abuse.
These numbers only make the work Weller and other activists for the deaf, disabled and elderly more urgent—and she has no shortage of solutions at the ready for lawmakers and advocates who are ready to listen. “The paperwork to obtain help is too complex, and is not in plain language,” Weller explained to Ms. “The print is too small and not designed for people with lower ability to read and understand difficult ideas. Likewise, staff are not available or trained to provide any support in filling out their complex paperwork.”
Weller also has demands for law enforcement officers—namely, “that enforcement facilities have trained staff on how to talk with sexual assault victims who are the same gender and interviews in private using an approach that gently encourages the victim to share information using open ended questions.” She also remarked that officers need further training specifically in regards to not “looking down” on those who are making the report, echoing her own interactions with officers who were frequently condescending. In the wake of her own reporting experience, which involved being forced to tell male officers what happened to her in a large crowded room, she recommends that officers act with “gentleness and appreciation for how hard it is to share deeply personal and painful information to a stranger.”
Weller’s advice to her allies and accomplices is simple: “Include us!” That means putting women with disabilities in leadership positions, amplifying the work of women at the intersections and explicitly including women with disabilities in policy and activist work around every feminist issue du jour.