DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario


SEXUAL ASSAULT  and  Women with DisAbilities
DisAbled?   Sexually Assaulted?   Need Help?

May 23 , 2002


What Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual act done to one person by another. Some examples are:

  • being forced to kiss someone,

  • being touched when you don't want to be

  • being forced to touch or look at someone's private parts (genitals),

  • being forced to look at sexual pictures or videos,

  • forced sex (intercourse).

It is sexual assault if anyone tricks, threatens, or forces you to do something sexual if you don't want to. Someone may try to tell you there is something wrong with you because you don't want to have sex with them. You may be afraid of what might happen if you don't agree to unwanted sex.

You Are Not To Blame

Sexual assault can happen to anyone, but in most cases, women are abused by men. You are more likely to be abused by someone you than by a stranger. This is especially true for women with disabilities. The person who is abusing you may be male or female and may also be:

  • a person who is employed to help you such as a caregiver, attendant or interpreter

  • a partner, husband, neighbour, co-worker

  • a doctor or therapist or other health professional

  • someone who pretends to be your friend

  • a family member (brother, father, uncle, grandfather, cousins, step-family members)

The person who abuses you may be someone you depend on for your daily needs. This may make it harder for you to get away or tell someone. Remember that no one has the right to abuse you. It doesn't matter who you are or who they are. It is not your fault - don't blame yourself for what has happened to you. Sex offenders are responsible for their actions.

Any Woman Can Be Sexually Assaulted

Sexual assault is a crime. One in four women have been the victim of rape or attempted rape. Women with disabilities are at greater risk of rape or sexual assault because the abuser often believes that we won't be believed if we tell. They think that we won't be able to tell or that we can't get away and that we don't know what is going on. Abusers may hold false beliefs about women with disabilities. They may believe that women with disabilities:

  • do not have sexual feelings,

  • are defenceless and, therefore, easy to take advantage of and assault
    do not feel pain

  • are a burden and deserve to be abused

  • will not make good witnesses in court

These false beliefs or myths can stop us from asking for and getting the help we may need and deserve.


1. You are entitled to all the feelings you may have because of the assault.

After being sexually assaulted, we may feel lots of different emotions over a very long time. Women are affected in different ways by sexual assault. We may:

  • feel guilty, afraid or angry

  • lose our appetite or eat a lot to comfort ourselves

  • have nightmares, not be able to sleep or not want to get out of bed

  • feel depressed, stay away from friends, family or activities

  • become more disabled because of the assault

  • have headaches or feel sick

  • be afraid that our freedom will be taken away if others find out about the

  • lose sexual feelings

  • be afraid no one will believe us if we talk about the assault

  • become more isolated from our supports because of the shame of having been
    sexually assaulted

2. You can tell someone you trust

If you think you are or have been sexually abused or assaulted or don't understand what is happening you can tell someone you trust like:

  • A friend

  • A teacher

  • A doctor or nurse

  • A relative

  • A counsellor

You can contact your local Sexual Assault Care Centre or call a local crisis line or emergency services or your local women's shelter.

Call the Assaulted Women's Helpline a 24 hour (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) helpline in the province of Ontario at the following numbers:

Translations available in up to 154 languages;
Service is anonymous and confidential)

  • in the GTA: (416) 863-0511

  • anywhere in Ontario call Toll Free: 1-866-863-0511

  • Toll Free TTY: 1-866-863-7868

Remember, if any person acts like she/he does not believe you or suggests you are foolish, find someone else to tell. Do not give up.

3. You can report the sexual assault

Sexual assault is against the law. You can report the assault to the police and victim assistance services. You can have the police take you to a hospital if you need to.

Reporting Sexual Assault

It is against the law for someone to sexually or physically assault you. Most incidents of sexual assault are not reported to the police. Sometimes sexual assault is a painful secret. It is difficult for any woman to report abuse. It may be more difficult for women with disabilities because:

  • we may not know who to turn to for help

  • we don't know if sexual assault clinics and women's shelters are physically accessible to us or if sign language interpreters are provided

  • some women's crisis lines do not have TTYs.

  • there is almost no information on sexual assault in Braille, on audiotape or computer diskette or in large print

  • many disabled women do not know services for victims of violence exist

  • we feel afraid, violated and alone

  • we may not be able to speak to someone in our own language

  • our caregiver or someone we live with may try to prevent us from getting help

Sexual assault is against the law. You can call the police for help. The police have a duty to help you.

Some police divisions have people who know ASL (American Sign Language) and are trained to assist a person who is deaf, deafened or hard-of-hearing.

The emergency number for the police throughout most of Ontario is 911 for voice and TTY.

What can the police do?

They can:

  • lay an assault charge

  • take you to safety

  • take you to a hospital

  • enforce a restraining order (if you have one)

  • take pictures of injuries for proof

If you report to the police, you should:

  • Ask for an interpreter if you need one

  • Tell the police clearly what happened, or have someone you trust help you do this

  • Be sure they file a report

  • If they decide not to lay charges, ask why

  • Ask for the names and badge numbers of the officers who take your report

Women with disabilities, Aboriginal women, lesbians, women of colour and refugee and immigrant women who have been assaulted sometimes face negative attitudes from the police. If you are not satisfied with the help you get from the police, call a local women's support service for assistance. You have a right to peace, safety and protection.

Remember, you should not bathe or shower if you are reporting the assault immediately as there may be evidence on your clothing or body that the police can use.

Getting Medical Help

Your health is important. Even if you decide not to call the police, you can see a doctor or go to a clinic for:

  • pregnancy testing

  • the "morning after" pill (if taken within three (3) days of unprotected intercourse will prevent pregnancy)

  • testing for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV

  • other medical help for cuts, bruises and other injuries

  • You may not want to see your family doctor but prefer a community health centre or a sexual assault care centre in your area.

Getting Counselling and Support

Sometimes being sexually assaulted takes away our safety. If you have been sexually assaulted you deserve a safe place to talk. You can get support in many different ways. It could mean:

  • talking to a friend

  • calling a crisis line

  • going to counselling

  • talking to a counsellor on the phone (this can be anonymous

  • getting help from support person or an advocate

Your mental and emotional health are as important as your physical health. You can take back control of your life by taking care of yourself. Try to make sure you have more than one or two people in your life who you trust and can support you.

There are often waiting lists for counselling. Make sure you get your name on a list if there is a counsellor you would like to talk to, even if it seems like a long time to wait. Tell the counselling service you contact if you need assistance because of your disability such as:

  • ASL/oral interpreter

  • wheelchair access (including washrooms)

  • assistance with transportation

  • attendant care

  • flexibility in counselling schedule due to transportation or language barriers

  • home visits

  • assistance from a support person with communication

  • resources on audiotape, computer diskette, large print, Braille or Blissymbolics

  • more help to find accessible housing or financial support

  • a sliding scale or subsidy for payment of fees

  • assistance of a cultural interpreter

  • referral to victim/assistance services

How Can I Feel Safer?

  • Trust your feelings. Protect yourself. If you feel uncomfortable, unsure or confused about a situation, it is more important to protect yourself than worry about someone else's feelings.

  • Know it is your right to decide what happens sexually with your body. It is your right to refuse sex or say "no" to sex even if you like the person or have had sex with them before.

  • Join with other women, disabled and non-disabled, to stop sexual assault.

  • Help in the fight for women's rights.

  • Take a women's self-defence course. Disabled women have fought back successfully! There are Wen-Do courses offered specially for women with disabilities.

  • Demand BARRIER-FREE women's services for all women who have been sexually assaulted.

  • Protest. Speak out. Take up space. If you hear a sexist joke or comment, say something to challenge it.

  • Find out more about sexual assault and why it happens through the services listed below or your local women's resource centre.

  • Join local women's groups and disability groups to get support for yourself and all women who have been assaulted.

  • Join the DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) Ontario for support and to organize against violence with other women with disabilities.

  • Take care of yourself. You are important.

Some things to remember if you have doubts:

You are a good person. You do not deserve to be abused. No one has the right to hurt you. You have a legal right to be free of abuse or assault. We can support and take care of ourselves and each other.

What can I do to help a woman who has been sexually assaulted?

Be supportive and listen to her feelings. Let her know where she can go to get the support she needs. Let her know that whatever happens, it is not her fault.

Accompany her to a medical clinic or police visits if this will comfort her.

Order Form

To order copies of the brochure "Sexual Assault and Women with Disabilities" follow this link.

To order copies of "You Deserve to Be Safe: An Education Video" and the "You Deserve to Be Safe: A Guide for Girls with Disabilities" follow this link.

Internal Links

DAWN Ontario document: "You Deserve to Be Safe - A Guide For Girls With Disabilities"

Guide to Services for Assaulted Women What can Women with disAbilities do to Be Safe


Revision: Copyright 2002 DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) Ontario

This brochure was produce and revised by: DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) Toronto

Original Brochure: Copyright 1988 DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) Toronto
Written by Joanne Doucette;
Revision: Copyright 1994 The DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) Toronto; Revised by: Joanne Bacon

DAWN Toronto gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Women's Health Bureau at the Ontario Ministry of Health. We also appreciate the advice and creativity of all the women who participated in this revision.

Converted to HTML on May 23, 2002 by Barbara Anello with thanks to Roberta Livingstone for typing out the document from printed brochure.

Contact us


Resources Online - updated May 23, 2003

Shelters for Abused Women (Ontario)
sorted by organization name || sorted by location

Sexual & Domestic Assault Treatment Centres (Ontario)
sorted by organization name || sorted by location

Covering Your Tracks

Finding a Lawyer

Restraining Orders, Peace Bonds & Terms of Release

Shelter Net Making the Links for Abused Women

Assaulted Women's Helpline 24-hour, 7-day-a-week crisis counselling, emotional support, information and referrals to women in up to 154 languages. All calls are anonymous.

Community Legal Clinics in Ontario

Sexual Assault and Women With Disabilities
Read the DAWN brochure online
|| Order the brochure

You Deserve To Be Safe
An Educational Video for Girls with disAbilities & Resource Guide
Read the booklet online
| Order the video and guide

Guide to Services for Assaulted Women
What Women with DisAbilities Can Do to Be Safe

DAWN Ontario's Annotated Bibliography & A Statement of Need
Violence Against Women With Disabilities


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This page was created May 23, 2002
Last updated May 23, 2003

(It is just a coincidence that it was a year to the date - not a mistake)