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We need to do more for disabled survivors like me – Ashley

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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.

Ashley at a garden party, smiling with a drink

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.

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, you can contact the Samaritans or Scope’s helpline for support.

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.

I know you’re trying to be nice – #100days100stories

Amanda’s six-year-old daughter Lucia has cerebral palsy. In this guest post from May 2014, Amanda talks about how people’s attitudes can make life awkward for her family. We’re republishing Amanda’s story here as part or our 100 days, 100 stories campaign

Amanda and her husband Anthony with Lucia, Georgia and Roman
Amanda and her husband Anthony with Lucia, Georgia and Roman

The moment other parents hear that Lucia has cerebral palsy, we have to deal with their preconceptions about what disabled people are like. We get people talking loudly and slowly, and people saying ‘What’s wrong with her?’ The answer is that nothing is wrong with Lucia. She just has cerebral palsy, and sometimes uses a wheelchair to get around. ‘Lucia’s wobbly legs’, as our other two children, Roman and Georgia, describe it! You get almost pitying looks from other parents – and you know, I wouldn’t change Lucia for the world.

Support online

I joined Scope’s online forum soon after Lucia was diagnosed, and it has been brilliant. Sometimes, when Lucia is ill or tired, we do feel sorry for ourselves, and having other parents to talk to and keep us positive is a huge help. You can also pick people’s brains for practical advice on things like special needs statements, disabled badges and mobility aids. We were very unsure about getting a wheelchair for Lucia, but people on the forum said to go for it – and it has been amazing. It has really improved our quality of life.

Don’t see the wheelchair

A couple of times, people have said, ‘You know, if you didn’t tell me I’d never have guessed Lucia is disabled’. It’s really not what we want to hear. When it comes to disability, you just adapt – we don’t need to pretend Lucia isn’t disabled. Sometimes we get stopped when we’re out shopping, and people make a massive fuss of Lucia’s wheelchair – ‘Ooh, look at the little girl, look at the wheels, aren’t they pretty?’ I know people are trying to be positive when they give us extra attention, but it’s really awkward for us. We much prefer it when no one stops us, no one cares, everyone just moves on. We know you’re trying to be nice, but we would much prefer if you didn’t even see the wheelchair. Even if you’re saying something positive, I’d respect you far more if you saw the person in the chair instead.

At Scope we believe that disabled people should have the same opportunities as everyone else, so let’s end the awkward.

Find out more about 100 days, 100 stories and read the rest of our stories so far.