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Massive trigger warnings for discussion of sexual and physical abuse of people with disabilities. Links and the comments wherein are not safe spaces, and do include graphical description of the abuse.  Remember, your wellbeing is most important.

Sidenote: Due to the risk involved, I will not be linking the indictment anywhere in this post or on this blog. Do not ask me to do so, as that will be asking me to put other people’s health on the line. And that is a no-no here.

Also, a big thanks to Anna for bringing this up and pointing it out to me. Seriously, you are awesome. <3

Right now Edward Bagley from Missouri and four other men are facing several felony charges related to the years of sexual abuse of a young woman with disabilities. And the internet is abuzz.

Guess what the focus is on.

Hint: it’s certainly not the fact that she’s mentally disabled – in fact, this is being erased and pushed as irrelevant. Even doubted, when considering the words of Marcus, the photographer of the Taboo magazine cover she was featured on. When asked about it by TheWrap, he commented, “They say she was of diminished mental capacity, we never saw that whatsoever. She seemed to be bright, intelligent and in control, able to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’.”

Nope, the focus is on what this means for the BDSM community.

I’m sorry, what?

Okay. I get that cases that involve common BDSM practices tend to be detrimental to the community as a whole, because it contributes to society’s perception of BDSM as harmful, dangerous and abusive. I get that the community’s response to such situations is, well, to defend themselves.

What I don’t get is the appropriation of problems that are far too common for a minority in order to make these points, to erase the experiences of this oppressed minority in favor of making this point, to the point of even doubting whether or not the individual is a part of it!

Abuse of people with disabilities is astonishingly common. We are still othered, perceived as freaks, and people can and do react violently to that – be it physically, verbally, emotionally or otherwise. It becomes even more common with women with disabilities, due to the intersectionality of abuse due to sexism and ableism. And don’t even get me started on the abuse of women with cognitive or mental disabilities (or the fact that there’s so little information about it out there in the first place), or minors with disabilities.

Oh, and does anyone remember the fact that this woman was an endangered runaway? She ran away from foster care, of which has a higher rate of child abuse to begin with, and I can only imagine what the abuse rate is like for children with disabilities in foster care or adopted homes (I say imagine because, much to my lack of surprise, I can’t find a whole lot of information about that either – though considering past news reports…..).

People mention the possibility that this woman has consented to the relationship and that many of the activities, of which are commonly practiced in the BDSM community, are possibly being used by the FBI to sensationalize the case in the eyes of the general public who are not familiar with these practices.

But let me tell you a little something about endangered runaways: we’re not necessarily rational. If we’re running away from a situation that was abusive, and thus running out of fear, that’s going to have a serious impact on one’s mental health and ability to reason regarding the consent to BDSM and especially edge play. And if one is also dealing with mental disabilities, the stress and fear of running away from such a terrifying and damaging situation has an even stronger impact. Which leads to higher risk of coercion and sexual and/or physical abuse.

And even if she had consented initially (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in of itself considering she was a minor and thus couldn’t legally consent to BDSM practices anyway), the fact that she tried to escape shows revocation of former consent.

And since we’re on the topic of consent, I want to address a particular segment of the article Not What We Do, written in response to the situation by Thomas MacAulay Millar:

She has some kind of mental disability, says the prosecutor. This may be highly relevant. This may be largely irrelevant. People with disabilities are vulnerable to and targeted for abuse at very high rates. However, we don’t know enough to know what this means because we don’t know anything about her disability. I don’t think it is possible to make any broad declaration about consent from that. The depressed, the anxious, folks with learning disabilities, aspies and autistic spectrum folks, are usually sexual beings and may be kinky. Being neurodiverse, to use one term, does not make one incapable of consent.

This is a red herring. For one, we don’t need to know (nor do we have the right to know, why exactly do we have to know her medical history again?) what her disability is, or the details of what it entails. Second, the fact that mental or cognitive disability does not in of itself make one incapable of consent does not mean that the rates of abuse for those with disabilities is irrelevant. Or that the effects of disability in such cases is irrelevant.

When we are dealing with something that is a chronic problem, when dealing with a long (and often invisible) history of increased abuse rates for those with disabilities, it is not irrelevant. In fact, it’s very relevant when cases of reported abuse and the investigation of such come up. Because it’s another sign of an overall problem that needs to be further looked into and addressed. Not only that but through this erasure, abuse victims with disabilities have less access to resources to leave, learn, and heal. And we need those resources just as much as the rest of you all do.

Otherwise things like this will keep happening. It will keep happening, and it will keep getting ignored and erased by the general public focusing on other factors of the situation.

Please understand this. Please understand that we’re subject to abuse as well, possibly at even higher rates, and with limited resources. And please understand that erasure and a lack of concern over this just fuels the problem and makes it harder to overcome, for everyone. We need this awareness. Don’t take that away from us, when our freedom and safety is already taken so frequently.