Focus of the Month



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The issue of sexual assaults on women on campuses of colleges and universities has been prominent in the media and in public discourse recently.[1] There has also been serious discussion as to whether the current administrative mechanisms under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act for addressing sexual violence and sexual harassment are effective or whether in practice they have kept incidents involving serious charges of potentially felonies involving rape and sexual assaults outside the criminal justice system and perpetrators unpunished in many cases.[2]

What has not been discussed as much is the issue of sexual assaults among college students with disabilities. Students with mental or physical disabilities have a higher risk of being the subject of a rape or a sexual assault while in college. A 2012 U.S. Department of Justice study found that persons with a disability were three times as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than were persons without a disability.[3] While there is no single reason why persons with disabilities are subject to sexual assaults at such a higher rate,[4] the fact that persons with disabilities face additional barriers to accessing available resources on campus than do fellow students without disabilities is one important contributing factor. To adequately evaluate and reform the current policies and mechanisms for dealing with incidents of rape and sexual assault on campus, it is critical that students with disabilities be at the table both since students with disabilities bring a unique perspective to the discussion and because they are the subject of incidents of sexual assault at higher rates than other college students.

[1] “1 in 5 Women Is Sexually Assaulted in College. Just 1 Percent of Attackers Are Punished. It’s not just UVA.” By Dave Gilson, Mother Jones, December 3, 2014;

“A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone, Nov. 19, 2014;

“How Campus Sexual Assaults Came To Command New Attention” by Tovia Smith, NPR, Aug. 12, 2014

[2] “Time to Call the Cops: Title IX Has Failed Campus Sexual Assault” by Robert Shipley, Time, December 1, 2014; “The University of Virginia Finally Confronts Its Rape Problem:

The confidential sexual assault investigation system has failed.” by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, Nov. 24, 2014.

[3] Not Alone: Together Against Sexual Assault

citing Harrell, E. (2012). Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009-2011 – Statistical Tables. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.

[4] “Sexual Assault & Persons With Different Abilities”, The University of Rhode Island Women’s Center



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