In our efforts to combat campus sexual assault, all survivors must be supported and heard
© Getty Images

April marked Sexual Assault Awareness Month highlighting the theme, “Embrace Your Voice.” As we continue to build on the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and encourage all individuals to make their voices heard, it is important to also highlight a demographic of sexual assault survivors that remains largely under the radar: students with disabilities.

Research by the Association of American Universities found that one in three disabled university women is sexually assaulted during her college years – a statistic that is appalling, unacceptable, and largely underreported. College is a new, exciting, and sometimes stressful experience for many young people, and it can present added challenges for students with disabilities. It is deeply disturbing to me that students who are blind, deaf or have limited mobility might not receive the resources they need during traumatic incidents such as sexual assault. According to a recently conducted study on disability accommodations, this appears to be the case on many campuses around the country.


The National Council on Disability’s report, “Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities” is simply jarring. The NCD surveyed colleges and universities in 14 states and the District of Columbia to determine whether disabled students on their campuses would be able to access basic student services available to their non-disabled classmates. For example, would a disabled student be able to read or hear their university’s sexual assault policies and procedures? Would a disabled student, when calling for help, be met with someone trained to communicate with them effectively? During a disciplinary hearing, would a disabled student have access to the appropriate translation services? Even more basic, would disabled students be physically able to access the building housing these kinds of services? When pressed, many university officials answered “no”.

“Not on the Radar” is an appropriate title for the NCD’s report because universities cannot address a problem they are unaware they have. Among the small percentage of sexual assault cases where students choose to come forward, universities currently do not record what percentage involve a student with a disability. However, the student’s gender identity, race, and sexual orientation are among the factors recorded – data universities use to pinpoint where they might have gaps in services, programming, and access. In the wake of a nationwide conversation surrounding sexual assault on college campuses, members of Congress have sought to better understand how colleges respond to, prevent, and support survivors of sexual assault. We have learned we’re overlooking the most at-risk group, and we must act.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including schools, and the Jeanne Clery Act requires institutions of higher education to set procedures to address crime on campus and disclose annual campus crime statistics, Congress must address the gaps where disabled students need help and support. Alongside Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem path to a Senate majority narrows Trump rails against Dems at Pennsylvania rally as Hurricane Michael batters Florida MORE (D-Pa.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanElection Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Former Dem aide makes first court appearance on charges of posting GOP senators' info online Ex-House intern charged with 'doxing' GOP senators during Kavanaugh hearing MORE (D-N.H.), we have introduced H.R. 5241, The Safe Equitable Campus Resources and Education (SECuRE) Act.

The bill makes targeted improvements to the Clery Act to ensure that the needs of individuals with disabilities are included in campus planning and response to incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, and that materials provided to the campus community are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Additionally, the bill will compel universities to keep track of sexual violence rates among disabled students. These small changes can make a significant difference in university services and accountability. We are encouraging members of Congress to join our efforts.

It is heartening to witness the nationwide conversation on sexual violence. Ongoing dialogue is the only way to ensure more survivors come forward and share their stories, leading to more accurate statistics and effective prevention strategies. It is my hope that raising awareness about the high prevalence of sexual assault cases among students with disabilities will help combat this trend. As advocates, let’s remember to include all survivors in this movement, especially those facing extra challenges to be seen and heard.

Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellRep. Debbie Dingell says she heard of gang rapes taking place when she was in college Dem rep says not enough progress has been made on hearing out misconduct allegations The Hill's Morning Report — Historic, high-stakes day for Kavanaugh and Ford MORE represents Michigan's 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She co-chairs the Bipartisan Working Group to End Domestic Violence.