In line with recent investigations into sexual assault cases at prominent universities comes another allegation of institutional negligence. This time it involves Gallaudet University. The college is largely attended by students with a disability, a group that represents 11 percent of America’s undergraduate students.
Melissa (real name not used) was a blind student attending Gallaudet. As a freshman in 2011, she met John (also not real name). He frequently used Melissa’s disability to put her in situations where she felt vulnerable and at risk: taking away her cane, grabbing her unexpectedly from behind, etc. After a couple months of this and numerous sexual comments, Melissa was drunk one night when John tried to force himself on her.
After other students with disabilities had similar experiences with him, Melissa contacted Gallaudet’s Title IX coordinator in 2012 to report what had happened. Two months after Melissa’s email, while John increasingly bullied students, she received a brief reply from the coordinator simply acknowledging that her email was received. The coordinator eventually met with her but overall Melissa was not pleased with the proceedings.
She eventually told the coordinator she didn’t want to submit a formal report. She did not feel her case was treated with confidentiality to protect her from increased abuse from John nor was there any concrete action taken on the part of the university to address what had happened.
That year, Gallaudet had the most sexual offenses per capita of any federally funded university. Research indicates that people with disabilities are much more likely to experience sexual assault than their peers. In addition, if they report the offense, they are also less likely to receive a response that is equal to the response their nondisabled peers would receive. That’s even more troubling considering that many say even the non-disabled cases aren’t being addressed appropriately or at all by many universities.