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More Bad News for Women on College Campuses

College campuses aren't prepared to respond to cases of sexual assault against students with disabilities, a new report finds. (Nic McPhee/Flickr)
College campuses aren't prepared to respond to cases of sexual assault against students with disabilities, a new report finds. (Nic McPhee/Flickr)
February 21, 2018

SALEM, Ore. – Nearly one in three women with disabilities on college campuses has experienced sexual assault, according to a new report from the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency.

The report, "Not on the Radar," also found colleges aren't prepared to respond to cases of sexual assault against students with disabilities.

Dr. Wendy Harbour, an NCD member, says campuses should be thinking of disability the way they think of discrimination. She wants people to imagine what it takes to survive this situation and deal with the long process of reporting assault.

"Now imagine a barrier at every, single step of that process, and it's really placing an incredible burden on the student," she states.

Harbour adds stereotyping of students with disabilities is widespread on college campuses, and estimates that about 450,000 have been sexual assault victims.

She also notes the study doesn't look at the entire college population. It includes only undergraduate women – not men, graduate students or staff.

State Sen. Sara Gelser of Corvallis, a former NCD member, says the Oregon legislature has been working on ways to provide information to victims of sexual assault on college campuses, but that issue is more complex for students with disabilities.

"If you are deaf or hearing-impaired, to be able to communicate that story to a confidential sexual assault advocate is incredibly difficult, because you're often going to have to be doing that through a translator instead of directly, face-to-face, to the person that you need to help you," she points out.

Harbour says although the report reveals an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, the response from colleges has been encouraging.

"The bad news is that disabled students are not on the radar of colleges, related to sexual assault,” she states. “The good news is that the report found that the minute disabled students were on the radar, colleges took action."

Harbour also says student-led groups are an effective way for students with disabilities to push for better policies and make sure their voices are heard.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR