Disabilities experts condemn sexual assault on woman on Winnipeg bus

Advocates are shocked after a woman with an intellectual disability was sexually assaulted on a Winnipeg Transit bus, as her support worker sat nearby.

Advocates say vulnerable women often don't recognize assault as abuse

A 19-year-old woman who requires 24 hour care was sexually assaulted on a Winnipeg Transit bus Oct. 11, as her support worker sat with her back to her client two rows ahead. A 46-year-old man has been charged. (CBC)

Advocates are shocked after a woman with an intellectual disability was sexually assaulted on a Winnipeg Transit bus, as her support worker sat nearby. 

Winnipeg police said the assault took place Oct. 11, more than two weeks ago.

CBC News has learned the woman, who requires 24 hour care, was with a support worker at the time. 

But the support worker, sitting two rows ahead of her with her back to the victim, didn't notice her client was being assaulted until more than 10 minutes into the attack. 

Doris Rajan is the director of social development for the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society (IRIS), a research and social development organization that advocates for the social inclusion of people with disabilities and their families.

"[It's] shocking, not the nature of the assault, but where it took place," Rajan said in a Skype interview with CBC. "That it happened on a public bus and with people around and that, in fact, she had a worker with her." 

Rajan said for women with disabilities, being the victim of an assault is a far too common experience. 

"Sexual assault for women with disabilities is at a rate twice that of women without disabilities and it's higher for women with intellectual disabilities and deaf women."

Communication a barrier

Rajan said communication can be a barrier for vulnerable women, and for vulnerable people in general, when they should report and seek help.

Rajan said a lot of women don't realize that what's happening to them actually constitutes abuse. 

"They know it's wrong, but they've been so successfully segregated and excluded from mainstream society, starting right in the beginning of the educational system, that they don't have the sense of entitlement [to] their rights and they don't have the kind of education around their sexuality that children and women [without] disabilities do," Rajan said.

Training program

Rajan said IRIS has been working on training for service providers and vulnerable people around issues of abuse. 

She said they have conducted focus groups across the country with women, men, and seniors with disabilities.

"The purpose is to be able to convert that information into resources and tools strategies that we can use with support service providers and vulnerable people in addressing violence and abuse," she said.

She said the organization hopes to tackle issues like the nature of abuse, barriers in reporting and seeking help, identifying the perpetrators, where abuse occurs, and ways the broader community can address abuse against vulnerable people.

The training program is launching in January and will be offered to workers here in Winnipeg.