Stories from the Spectrum – Autism from an Autistic Perspective
#UsToo – You are not alone
Sexual Assault in the Autism Community
By your sisters and brothers in solidarity
The Stories from the Spectrum Series at Spectrums Magazine features autistic writers, male and female, young and mature who wish to share something about their lives with others with the hope that what they share may encourage, educate, empower or inspire another person.
If the charged topic of sexual harassment and abuse of youth and adults with disabilities makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone. Although personal accounts of this sensitive and mature nature are not often featured in autism publications, we believe that autistic adults gain personal power when these stories are shared.
In order to be respectful of the privacy of contributing writers, readers as well as their respective families, we have used pseudonyms in this piece. All those who contributed were over 18 years old at the time of publication.
In October of 2017, The New Yorker published an investigative piece detailing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct said to have been committed by Hollywood film producer and movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein between the 1990s and 2015. One of the women sharing her story was high profile actress, Ashley Judd. As the days passed, more stories were shared from actresses and models around the world, including Asia Argento, Rosanna Arquette, Kate Beckinsale, Angie Everhart, Daryl Hannah, Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino.
As of November 8th, USA Today had an ongoing list online of over 75 accusers, some of which included actresses who identify on the autism spectrum.
The “Me Too” movement was initially founded by activist Tarana Burke, who created metoo.support, a website that supports and amplifies the voices of survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and exploitation.
In the wake of all of the allegations surfacing in Hollywood, actress Alyssa Milano regenerated interest in the movement when she started a #MeToo campaign on Twitter on October 15th to put a much-needed spotlight on the issue. The tweet read, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
In the weeks that followed, through the bravery of victims and the power of social media, many other women and men in a variety of industries began to share publicly, their experiences being sexually abused or harassed by powerful high-profile men.
As of November 11th, The New York Times had an ongoing list on their website of at least 20 high-profile men in a variety of industries that have also been accused. Since then, a number have resigned, been fired or experienced other fallout after claims ranging from inappropriate text messages to rape.
Additionally, there has been a lot of renewed media interest in former childhood star, Corey Feldman and his Truth Campaign to expose pedophiles in Hollywood and name sexual abusers who have been active in the industry for decades.
What does this have to do with youth and adults in the autism community?
Here are some of our stories.
“It has everything to do with us. Because it’s #UsToo – Many of us have been victimized throughout our youth and adulthood.” #MeToo ~ Susan
“When I realized the nightmares had started again, I panicked. The last time I experienced this cycle of pain, it lasted three months. I lost my boyfriend, my career, and almost my life. How could the misbehavior of a media mogul like Harvey Weinstein affect me so much? Because he resembled HIM… the Hairy Insane Monster who stole my innocence through sexual abuse when I was only 12.” #MeToo ~ Kayla
“After the rape took my virginity something awful happened. I thought I was damaged goods. I didn’t respect my body. I didn’t respect myself. I gained weight, quit school, quit my job and alienated myself from friends and family. I also became somewhat promiscuous… trying to see if I was worth a real relationship or if people just wanted me for sex – or a fling – or something. I turned away from God, and it was a long time before I found Him again. Why did this happen? I blamed myself. It was never my fault.” #MeToo – Audrina
“I was taught compliance at a young age. Do this, not this. Quiet hands! Refusal is not accepted! Want your candy reward? Then shhhhhh! Be obedient. Hours and hours of repetitive hell. My therapist taught me “how to be a good boy” during the day and never had any idea that my uncle was sexually abusing me during overnight camping trips. Good boys don’t tell. Well now, they do. I was nine bloody years old when it started. NINE.” #MeToo ~ Robert
“I was one of those who stayed ‘friends’ with my rapist. He was my boss. He had all the power. I recreated all sorts of narratives that I would perseverate on, like maybe I was misreading things. Maybe I sent the wrong signal. Maybe he really liked me… and the six other women he also abused. I. Was. So. Broken. I still am.” #MeToo ~ Keisha
“I was sexually harassed for almost a semester by an English professor in college when I was 20. I was not diagnosed with Asperger’s until many years later. I understood very little about social rules or protocol. I know this sounds naive but I had always gotten along better with adults than my peers, so I trusted him. In his off-time, he was an aspiring Hollywood writer and local comedian and very well-liked on campus. I was an aspiring writer and performer. He offered for me to read a script he had written. Then he wanted me to visit him in his office after-hours where he tried to kiss me. I said no thank you, I had a boyfriend and I’m sorry if I gave him the wrong impression. It only got worse from there. Soon he was visiting my dorm looking for me. In class, he would comment on my clothing and figure. He assigned me projects that required me to stay after class, threatening to fail me if I did not comply. I made a formal complaint with the school, and they took his side. That made him harass me more. I complained again, and the best the university would do was allow me not to attend my last week of class. I missed the final and got a B. He went on to Hollywood where one of his films recently starred A-list actors. I know it’s not my fault, but I’m so sorry I couldn’t stop him.” #MeToo ~ Hailey
“I was molested when I was 6, then again at 8 and I’m only telling you this because maybe some parent will notice this happening to their child who can’t speak. I should have been enjoying my childhood. WHY DIDN’T ANYONE HEAR MY SCREAMS?” #MeToo ~ Teddy
“A few years ago, I attended a seminar for men and women who experienced disability. The speaker brought up the topic of trauma, sexual violence and abuse. She asked audience members to raise our hands if this is something we had experienced by someone we had known. A few hands slowly went up around the room. She then asked us to close our eyes and breathe in and out multiple times. Afterward, she asked us with our eyes closed the same question and to raise our hands again. Then she asked us to open our eyes. Almost all the hands in the room were raised, including the men. I felt like throwing up.” #MeToo ~ Shiloh
We have to talk about this.
Very few people want to talk about this and yet, if we don’t, sexual abuse for children and adults with disabilities will continue to happen, and it will happen to people all across the autism spectrum. Let’s not create a competition of suffering among different ends of the spectrum. NO autistic person being sexually harassed or abused is acceptable. We must come together in solidarity to prevent this whenever we can and to provide support, community, and healing to those who are recovering. Thank you for this start. ~ Hailey
Abusers use stigma and confusion as a weapon. They know the people with disabilities that they prey upon will feel ashamed and will likely not tell anyone about it. ~ Shiloh
We need to teach everyone the warning signs, we need to change the way we talk about it and perceive it. We all need to do our part and make sure to support abuse survivors. I know it’s triggering to think about. I have been having recurring nightmares again for weeks. But as autistic adults, we need to speak up for our brothers and sisters on the autism spectrum and let them know we have their backs. ~ Audrina
Unlike different kinds of social media campaigns and disability justice activism, the power of #MeToo and #UsToo is that it takes something that women and men have long kept quiet about and helps transform those stories into a movement. It’s an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in our society at large. It’s about getting women and men in the autism community, and our allies, to raise our hands.
It’s about stepping up and showing support for grassroots nonprofit organizations like Autism Empowerment and publications like Spectrums Magazine which provide the opportunity to shine a light on our stories, promote healing, receive help and reduce isolation and shame.
When we reduce the stigma, we work toward reclaiming power and growing stronger.
Was your hand raised? #MeToo #UsToo
Autism Empowerment provides an online resource center to support sexual assault victims and prevent abuse and violence. www.autismempowerment.org/resource-center/
RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Whether you’re looking for support, information, advice, or a referral, trained support specialists are ready to help. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE. Visit www.rainn.org for details.
This article originally appeared on pages 10 -13 in the Winter 2017 edition of Spectrums Magazine from Autism Empowerment. Thank you to all the brave survivors who contributed their stories to this piece so that others in the autism community would know they were not alone.