This story is part of 30 Under 30.
Trigger warning: mentions sexual assault, rape, suicide attempt
Ashley is a campaigner. As a survivor of sexual assault, Ashley is passionate about bringing about change for disabled survivors, who are often overlooked. Through Scope for Change – Scope’s training programme for young disabled campaigners – Ashley has teamed up with others to set up Disabled Survivors Unite. Their goal is to combat domestic abuse and sexual violence against disabled people.
As part of 30 Under 30, Ashley talks about the need for disabled survivors’ voices to be heard, shares their own journey and talks about their plans for the future.
I am a survivor of sexual assault
I’m going to share my story because I don’t want others to feel ashamed or alone. I was drugged and assaulted in London when I was 21. Due to my autism, I often go non-verbal under stress, but I was very clear that I did not want to have sex with this man, this stranger. What I wanted was of no importance to him. Afterwards, I fell into a deep hole that no one seemed prepared to help me out of. The knowledge wasn’t there for someone like me, a rape victim with autism, chronic illnesses, and ill mental health.
And so the months went by without proper support and, upon hearing the case would not go forward, I tried to kill myself. I remember waking up in the hospital bed with an apologetic doctor explaining that England didn’t have any support set up for people like me. My family watched as my physical health deteriorated and I retreated further into my head. No one knew what to do.
I found support from other survivors
Two years later, I made it to a survivor’s writing session and found a group of people just like me. Most had disabilities of varying kinds and it was the first time since my assault that I felt a sense of purpose. We decided to band together and start something – we came up with The (re)Storytellers Project.
The idea was to create a template to be used at universities for writing groups of survivors and victims to support each other, as the waiting lists for Rape Crisis counselling can be incredibly long. Through this group, I discovered that the most important thing to me was to protect the countless others who had been through what I had.
Working with other young campaigners
Through Scope for Change, a training programme for young disabled campaigners, I learned just how valuable our voices are as young disabled people. We were taught how to utilise social media, film, and various other campaign tactics to get our voices out there; but, most importantly, I think we all came away more confident in asserting ourselves and our varying needs.
It’s hard to express just how important Scope For Change is to me as a disabled person who has spent most of their life incredibly isolated – to be in a room full of fellow disabled people who want to change the world is absolutely glorious.
Why we set up Disabled Survivors Unite
I struggle every day with the knowledge that my situation is not an uncommon one. As I’ve become more involved with the disability community, it’s been made very clear that sexual violence is an epidemic that is rarely discussed with us in mind. It’s my goal to change that.
People like me often go unheard. Disabled people are desexualised to such a degree in the eyes of the public that the possibility of us being victims doesn’t even occur to people. When I was raped, my disabilities were ignored by those in charge of helping me.
At the Scope For Change residential several of us realised we wanted to campaign about similar issues. As a survivor myself, I’ve had many difficulties getting specialised support and couldn’t stand to let others feel alone in that. We want Disabled Survivors Unite to become a non-profit organisation built around fighting domestic abuse and sexual violence against disabled people.
Our plans for the future
Our first step towards our goal is The (re)Storytellers Project. With Disabled Survivors Unite, we’re taking that idea to the next level and collecting stories, letters, and notes of support, anonymously or otherwise, to better amplify the voices of disabled victims and survivors.
We hope that sharing these stories will both create a feeling of community for those involved and bring about change in the way that disabled victims and survivors are viewed and treated.
To find out more and support Ashley’s work, visit Disabled Survivors Unite.
Ashley is sharing their story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.