"It’s four or five against one. I give myself up to the inevitable and allow this man to drag me across the street"Wikimedia Commons/Lewis Clarke / London : Westminster - Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pedestrian Crossing

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of sexual assault and a brief mention of domestic abuse.

As I am standing at a crossroads with my cane, a hand seizes my upper arm, fingers unapologetically splayed over my breast. Another hand grabs my waist as the owner tugs me forward. “It’s safe to cross,” a male voice announces.

I attempt to wriggle away, saying, “Please take your hands off me.”

“You don’t have to be so rude,” he snaps. “I’m trying to help.”

“Yeah,” several women chime in, “he’s being nice.”

It’s four or five against one. I give myself up to the inevitable and allow this man to drag me across the street, his hands all the time on my waist and up against my boob.

Sexual assault? Perhaps, but it is not labelled as such because, you see, I am blind. In other words, I am disabled.

“Disabled women like me are consistently left out of the discussion”

In a post-MeToo society, we have begun having open discourse about the threats women encounter on a daily basis. The nationwide survey in which over 86% of women reported having experienced sexual harassment highlighted the sheer scale of the struggle women still face to claim agency and autonomy over their own bodies. Although the importance of these conversations cannot be overemphasised, disabled women like me are consistently left out of the discussion. This, despite statistics showing that disabled women are 3 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence, and are far less likely to have their formal reports of sexual violence taken seriously.

Even initiating the conversation feels overwhelming. What it means to be ‘disabled’ and how one frames the ‘disabled experience’ is a layered paradox. On one hand, one must take into account the personal experiences of loss, frustration, social marginalisation and psychological toll that accompanies living with a disability. Even here I foresee my disabled friends crying foul because a big part of disability pride relies on the assertion of normalcy. On the other hand, being disabled is frankly nothing short of challenging. For one thing, I cannot overemphasise the effect the very concept of ‘disability’ has on the non-disabled; many people know deep down that they are only one car accident (or in 2022, one severe case of Covid) away from becoming disabled for life — and I think that is where part of the discomfort and fear towards disability lies. As a blind individual I elicit every kind of response: horror, pity, sadness, fear, discomfort, awe. I evoke these strong emotional reactions in others by simply existing and these colour how others see and treat me and my body way before I can initiate any kind of discourse about disability and ableism.

“When we speak up about harassment, we are disbelieved, gaslit and manipulated”

The disabled are subject to a world where we are dehumanised, our experiences devalued and our bodies desexualised. There is an underlying assumption that because our circumstances are so tragic, we are incapable of the full human experience including enjoying a fulfilling romantic and/or sexual life. We see this from our criminal justice system all the way to our media and literature. I remember attending a seminar about Angela Carter’s short story The Bloody Chamber where the lecturer had to explain to me that disabled characters in literature, like the blind piano teacher in the story, are often either asexual or castrated. Jean-Yves is too disabled, too broken in short, to bestow the female protagonist with a happily ever after. These cultural scripts which present us as asexual, coupled with the consistent social marginalisation and the discomfort of the non-disabled towards our existence, create a vicious cycle where disabled women are seldom afforded the opportunity to explore or even talk about their sexuality. Moreover, while we may strive for autonomy, the nature of our disability sometimes requires us to depend on others for basic everyday tasks which automatically strips us of agency over our bodies.


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The icing to this cake is that disabled women are seldom considered viable players in the dating game. I feel ashamed explaining to incredulous girlfriends why I have never been cat-called. Similarly, when the bartender insists that my drink is on the house, I know it is not because he thinks I’m hot. Practices of a sexual life are assumed to only be achievable by bodies which fulfil an aesthetic or functional ideal. Crudely put, since disabled bodies are deemed abnormal, it is difficult for people to consider me datable or f***able material. It is equally difficult for the same people to conceive of a man lusting after a blind woman enough to grope her.

So, when a man puts his hands on my boobs to help me cross the street, many will fail to recognise this as sexual harassment. Being able to label sexual assault as such, and to have it recognised by the public, is in a sick way a privilege: the woman is perceived as having the right to consent and bodily autonomy, so she is entitled to call a spade a spade when she is sexually victimised. As long as disabled women like me are dehumanised, devalued and desexualised, we remain trapped within an unbreakable cycle where we are simultaneously unattractive and easy targets, but when we speak up about harassment, we are disbelieved, gaslit and manipulated to think that we are wrong. If it was assault, it wasn’t sexual because, I mean, “Who would want them anyway?”