I tried to write about another topic today, something more general, and maybe more applicable and helpful for other parents. But I couldn’t stop thinking about something kind of personal and interior, and so I guess I’m going to write about it here, with apologies and also gratitude for your indulgence.
I want to talk about a kind of helplessness.
The big news story all weekend revolved around the guilty verdict handed down to the two Steubenville, Ohio teenaged boys accused of taking advantage of an inebriated young girl at a party and raping her. It’s an especially ugly case, full of testimony of disgusting text messages, cell phone photos and video of the incident, as well as social media used to continue to violate and revictimize the girl after the incident took place. The story isn’t entirely relevant to special needs parenting, not specifically, but at the same time, it very much feels relevant. I challenge you to find a special needs parent who feels otherwise.
It feels relevant because we know the statistics. They’re not hard to find, nor easy to put out of mind.
In 2007, according to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, about 47,000 persons with disabilities were victims of rape; rates of rape and sexual assault were more than twice those for people without disabilities. And among that population, people with cognitive disabilities had an even higher risk of being violently victimized than those with any other type of disability.
A Canadian study showed remarkable numbers for sexual assault among different categories of disability. 40% of women with disabilities have been assaulted or raped; 54% of boys who are deaf and 50% of deaf girls; 68% of psychiatric outpatients and 81% of psychiatric inpatients. According to one 1995 study, more than 90% of persons with developmental disabilities will experience some form of sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Almost 50% will experience ten or more such incidents.
And almost all of those incidents of abuse will be carried out by people who are familiar with and trusted by the victims.
As a parent, those statistics are sobering. As a father, or at least as this father, these odds fly in the face of every protective impulse I feel, and I feel a lot of them, all the time. When Schuyler was a little girl, protecting her felt, well, not easy exactly, but it felt possible, at least. Now that she’s thirteen, it seems as if the dangers to my daughter lurk in every darkened space, every hallway at her school, but most of all, those dangers hide in her own trusting and gregarious and naive nature. Schuyler understands a great deal, but she trusts very easily and is eager to meet new people, eager to a fault.
As parents, we can’t be there all the time. In the case of an ambulatory and sociable girl like Schuyler, we as her parents have to face the fact that every year, we’ll have even fewer opportunities to protect her. It’s a rude, cruel and predatory world for kids like Schuyler, and it won’t be any less so for her as she becomes a young adult.
This isn’t my finest blog post, I realize. And I recognize that its greatest weakness is that I simply don’t have any answers. I read those statistics and I perhaps selfishly look for the loopholes, the factors that might be missing from her own life that would make her own chances of being victimized and less than others like her. Those loopholes remain elusive.
When I watched coverage of the Steubenville case, all I could think was “That’s someone’s little girl.” There’s a father out there who took care of her and tried to keep the wolves at bay, and in the end he just couldn’t. I don’t want to feel kinship with that father. I desperately want not to. But I do.