Disabilities and the #MeToo Movement

The L’Arche USA reports an internal investigation confirms founder Jean Vanier committed decades long patterns of spiritual and sexual abuse. The L’Arche is a community model of serving people with disabilities.

So far, none of the known survivors of Vanier’s abuse are identified as people with disabilities. However, there is a possibility yet to be uncovered that some of the people Vanier abused are people with disabilities.

In the fall of 2018, I preached on Mark 10:13-16 at the Amistad Chapel of the national setting of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio. From the sermon:

“Disability justice also means that when addressing the problem of sexual assault, we include survivors who are people living with disabilities.

  • knowing that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives,
  • knowing that 30% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted,
  • knowing half of the women assaulted experienced assault more than 10 times,
  • Knowing that only 3% of sexual abuse involving people with developmental disabilities is ever reported.
  • People with intellectual disabilities have one of the highest rates of sexual assault of any group in America (7 times higher than people without disabilities) and it’s hardly talked about at all.(www.disabilityjustice.org).

Jesus would be indignant that children with disabilities are the most vulnerable to sexual assault and that the church is silent about it.”

Church, this is our moment to break the silence about #MeToo and disabilities. We can no longer be silent about the injustice of the sexual abuse of people with disabilities.

It is possible that none of Vanier’s abuse survivors are people with disabilities. Yet, the fact that he violated the sacred trust of those in his care will send tremors through all communities serving people with disabilities and people with disabilities who have experienced spiritual and sexual abuse. Most of whom we will never know about and whose stories we will never hear.

For the sake of disability justice, this is more than about one man’s moral failing, this is about a system of oppression and abuse that needs to change. We can no longer pretend that people with disabilities are not part of the #MeToo movement. The question is, what will we do now that we know?

Published by Sarah Griffith Lund

Leader, preacher and author of *Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Church and Family*

3 thoughts on “Disabilities and the #MeToo Movement

  1. Hello. I am a 55-year-old Commissioned Minister in the CC (DOC) who is both a member of the #MeToo Survivors community and a woman living with some major disabilities. I loved this blog. I wished you had said more. The words, “Preach it, Sister!” might have been heard in this room. Hurry, Justice. Hurry.

    Ona Sherrill Marae

  2. This program was just aired on TV Japan (NHK) about a chaplain’s service that they have in Japan where the death penalty is still being carried out. These Chaplains are for a variety of faith groups, Christians, Buddhist, Muslim etc. available to the inmates at their request for a faith preference. It reminded me of Dr. Lund’s book “Blessed are the Crazy”. Perhaps we can say “crazy” needs can be found in any faith group! This NHK presentation have English subtitles.

    NHK chaplain Feb 2019


    Saeki(Ren Ohsugi)works with death-row convicts as a prison chaplain. He tries to instill the prisoners with a sense of morality and help them become a better person. He is a good communicator with the death-row convicts assigned to solitary cells. Saeki agonizes over whether his words really touches the prisoners and whether he is doing the right thing. Saeki also faces his past which he wants to forget.

  3. I agree that this is very much an overlooked issue. To make matters worse, so much of the Church Universal struggles with ableism, and ableism also is a major factor in the sexual assaults of people with physical and developmental disabilities. Maybe a start would be a greater recognition of ableism both within ourselves and our church structures.

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