By Lorraine Stanley, Founder & CEO SWAD

A paralysed woman is lying in a hospital bed, while medical staff run tests to find out what has caused the paralysis. Her partner “Mr X” visits, takes a pillow from underneath her head and places it on her face. There is nothing she can do to physically move it, and no one can hear her calling for help because of the pillow.

Staff can’t see what’s happening because the privacy curtain is blocking their view. When he removes the pillow, she asks him why he did that - his reply is “I just wanted to check you really can’t move”. The woman is in shock and is afraid that next time it could be a sexual assault.

Two weeks later, and the woman is recovering at home, but has limited mobility and is mostly bedbound. Mr X brings their children for a visit, and on the way out he attempts to hug her. He grabs the woman’s breasts , out of sight of the children - but they are still within earshot, so the woman can’t scream at him to get off her. Also, it had happened in a split second, with no adult witnesses present.

Mr X has made it clear that he feels she is an unfit mother due to her disabilities (she isn’t), She is scared, isolated (due to a combination of his coercive control and her disabilities), and with few resources. She can’t even access a physical appointment for legal advice as none of the local solicitors’ offices are wheelchair accessible.

The woman in the story is me.

When I was asked by STARS to do this blog, my starting point was that I was one of a limited number of disabled people have experienced sexual abuse or violence. Sadly, it turns out that I am just one of thousands.

For the year ending March 2018 to year ending March 2020 combined, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) showed that women with a disability were more likely to have experienced sexual assault in the last year than women without a disability (5.0% and 2.8% respectively). There was no significant difference for men. The total of disabled people who reported being sexually assaulted during the time period was 8536. (Women 5065, Men 3471)1

Figures from the Rape Crisis (England & Wales) website state that most survivors of rape don't report it to the police. 5 in 6 women who are raped don’t report – and the same is true for 4 in 5 men.2

As upsetting as those figures are, what about the bigger picture? What if the person that is sexually abusing you is your carer (paid professional OR unpaid family member)? If you rely on them to keep your airways clear; social services pay for your care package for 15 mins, 4 times a day; and there’s a snowballs chance in hell of you getting more time…..are you really going to take your chances on the remaining 23 hours of the day by antagonising your carer? I think not.

What if you plan to escape your abuser but need a shelter or halfway house to do so; you rely on a wheelchair to mobilise; and there are no wheelchair accessible shelters available in your area? Where do you go? Friends and family may want to help, but the vast majority of houses and flats are not wheelchair accessible either.

What if you have a learning disability and didn’t attend a mainstream school; you don’t have the words to describe what’s happening to you; and the words you DO have are not the anatomical words that staff are watching out for? (“biscuit” instead of “vulva”/”lollipop” instead of “penis”).

If you’re professional and a child mentioned to you that their relative makes them “share their biscuit/lollipop with them” and the child doesn’t want to share – would it occur to you that this may relate to a sexual assault?

You may be surprised to know that in 2020 The Department for Education introduced compulsory Relationships Education for primary pupils and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for secondary pupils from September 2020. Up until then, students at Special Educational Needs (SEN) Schools, would only receive this vital information if their school was quite progressive.

So, what can you do to improve the situation? Proactively engage with disability related self-advocacy groups, disability rights organisations, and other networks to enable disabled people to identify their needs and campaign for improved services. A good starting point is the resources list below.

Further information on SWAD can be found at

Resources list:

The everyday assault of disabled women: ‘It’s inappropriate sexual touching at least once a month’ Guardian article by Lucy Webster 25 November 2021

Women with a disability are almost twice as likely to have experienced sexual assault (5%) as women without a disability (2.8%), according to ONS data for the two years to March 2020.

Just Ask Don’t Grab – Meet Dr. Amy Kavanagh, Blogger, Activist, and Volunteer with a Message – #JustAskDontGrab.

RealTalk: Provider Toolkit AUTISTIC SELF ADVOCACY NETWORK ASAN Improving Quality of Sexual Health Care for Patients with Disabilities (American-based resource, but just as relevant in the UK)

Unlocking sexual abuse and learning disabilities Supporting adults with learning disabilities who have  been sexually abused A guide for family carers and support staff.

Trapped, Disabled & Abused | Dispatches | Channel 4 Documentaries Disabled people are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled people. Reporter Sophie Morgan examines why and reveals a shocking lack of awareness and support for survivors.

Co-produced learning webinar for Shared Lives schemes supporting disabled survivors of abuse. Shared Lives organisation worked with Arc England's Us Too project to learn how domestic abuse impacts people with learning disabilities and autism and how professionals, including Shared Lives schemes, can give the right support, in the right way, at the right time. Us Too is led by women with lived experience of domestic abuse who have learning disabilities and autism. 



Table 5: Percentage of adults aged 16 to 74 who were victims of sexual assault in the last year, by personal characteristics and sex, year ending March 2018 to year ending March 2020 CSEW combined1,2,3

2    Figures from the Rape Crisis (England & Wales) website