ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Brace Fellow Julia Lane ’17 Investigates Abuse of Disabled Women

When Julia Lane ’17 first began her research into the abuse of disabled women, she was stunned by horrific stories from survivors of such abuse. She read the story of a physically disabled woman named Traci, who was beaten by her husband but believed she had no choice but to stay with him, as she thought she could not support herself on her own.

Over the course of her research into the abuse of disabled women, Julia Lane ’17 encountered the story of a physically disabled woman named Traci, who was beaten by her husband but believed she had no choice but to stay with him, as she thought she could not support herself on her own.

Troubled by the prevalence of stories like Traci’s, as well as the lack of conversation on campus surrounding disability, Lane delivered her Brace Student Fellow Presentation entitled “Anatomy, Autonomy, and Abuse: An Analysis of the Abuse of Physically Disabled Women” to raise awareness of disabled women’s rights and abuse.

Lane aimed to outline the correlation between power imbalances and gender-based abuse of women with physical disabilities, as well as offer a solution to combat the abuse of physically disabled women.

“Disability just seems to be something that no one really acknowledges, maybe because it is rather infrequent, especially on a campus like this. I was just fascinated by how something that is so defining in the lives of the people with disabilities can just be ignored by everyone,” said Lane in an interview with The Phillipian.

During her presentation, Lane focused specifically on physical and sexual abuse of women with physical disabilities, while highlighting the intersections between disabilities and abuse.

Referencing a diagram called the “Power and Control Wheel,” depicting the relations between power and control with physical and sexual abuse, Lane focused her presentation on several factors that perpetuate the cycle of abuse for physically disabled women: isolation, dependence, and the medical model of disability, which shows a medical process of dehumanization. These factors contribute to a lack of agency for physically disabled women.

“Physically disabled women experience longer terms of abuse because they are so profoundly disempowered by medical, social, and political systems, and this disempowerment enhances the control that male abusers wield over their victims, preventing physically disabled women from reporting or escaping abuse,” said Lane in her presentation.

“These women do not have the authority to make decisions about their lives and their bodies,” she continued.

Additionally, Lane explained the systemic challenges those with disabilities face, such as a lack of disability-accessible resources, inadequate training for people who work with abuse survivors, and insufficient sexual education for many people with disabilities. To conclude her presentation, Lane showed how participation can work to combat these issues.

“[Participation] is largely the antithesis of disempowerment. Participation combats the harmful effects of the medical model of disability, because patients can be encouraged to participate actively in decisions of their health, their treatment, and their bodies, actually empowering them when they step into the doctor’s office,” said Lane in her presentation.

During her research, Lane worked closely with her faculty advisor, Donald Slater, Instructor in History and Social Sciences, as well as Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English and Co-Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, who guided her through the process of researching, drafting, and writing her paper and presentation.

“I was in [Slater’s] class for History 300, and I could tell that he had so much insight into the research process because he had done a lot of research himself. I knew he would be an amazing resource, and I got along really well with him, so I was happy to work with him,” said Lane.

Vidal said “There were so many aspects of this whole project that were incredibly successful. I think she did a phenomenal job of unpacking [the topic]; that level of critical thinking at this level of complexity and being able to understand it, and to write about it eloquently and logically and persuasively – we don’t see much of that in high school, we really don’t, not even in Andover. So that was an aspect that made it truly special.”

Lane’s presentation was met with enthusiastic responses from an audience consisting of students, faculty, and former alumni.

“I was just remembering sitting in the dorm with her last spring when she was first pitching this idea, and I really did not understand just how much of an issue it was, and it was just something that I had never really considered before. It’s clearly a very pervasive issue, so I guess I just took away just how widespread it actually is,” said Laurel Wain ’17.

“I found that the presentation represented people that aren’t always represented, and I think it is important to remember this group of people, disabled people, and how they aren’t necessarily acknowledged in our society, especially in a community like Andover,” said Abigail Taylor ’20.

Lane hopes that her presentation and research will spark students’ interest in the abuse of power and control targeting women with physical disabilities.

“I wanted to bring this to light and to share this experience with other people on campus, and I really hope that it actually inspired some people to look into this topic,” said Lane in an interview with The Phillipian.

Editor’s Note: Julia Lane is President and Editor in Chief of The Phillipian.