Who Speaks up for People Who Can’t?: Protecting Disabled People from Abuse

CW: Sexual Assault & Violence

Magdalena Cruz grew up knowing she was alive due to a horrific crime. She was born in 1986. Her mother couldn’t care for herself.

Her mother was a resident of a long-term care facility in Rochester, NY. She had severe intellectual and physical disabilities, which left her unable to speak and dependent on others for care. When she became pregnant, it was thought to result from rape. She couldn’t consent to sexual activity due to her disabilities. Initially, the staff thought that another resident was responsible.

Cruz appears to have independently solved the mystery surrounding her father’s identity. She found out who her father was nearly four decades later, in part because of a mail-order DNA test and a well-known genealogy database. The lawsuit she filed this week uncovers the heartbreaking truth. He wasn’t a resident of the facility. He was an employee.

Cruz also discovered through her investigation that no police complaint was ever made, no employees were ever questioned, and no administrators ever took any action, according to the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, disabled people are more likely to experience sexual assault or abuse. Sexual assault is seven times more common against disabled people than against non-disabled people. Globally, girls and women with disabilities are ten times more likely to become victims of violence than women and girls without disabilities, according to research from World Bank Group.

In addition, The National Crime Victim Survey indicated in 2008 that disabled people experience greater rates of violence than those without disabilities. Sadly, the survey also found that victimization is twice as high for people with disabilities.

Disabled people have the right to live free from abuse. There is no excuse for abusing, neglecting, or killing disabled people. Everyone should be able to live a life free of abuse and neglect. Disabled people are among the most vulnerable citizens in the world. People in charge of caring for those with disabilities must never abuse them.


Koistinen, Mari, et al. “Five Facts to Know about Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities.” The World Bank , The World Bank Group, 5 Dec. 2019, https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/five-facts-know-about-violence-against-women-and-girls-disabilities.

Rand, Michael, and Erika Harrell. “Crime against people with disabilities, 2008.” (2010).

Shapiro, Joseph. “The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About.” NPR, NPR, 8 Jan. 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/01/08/570224090/the-sexual-assault-epidemic-no-one-talks-about.

Thompson, Carolyn. “Daughter Unravels Decades-Old Mystery of Disabled Mom’s Rape.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 8 Mar. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/disabled-mom-raped-dna-mystery-new-york-337cc7c523852253c0125d2a6dff0b4c?fbclid=IwAR3XR9oU98nCAcCQrnN0UBoAi9lkkvSmny9DoSfGKoGkeMT__o742SR3BS4.

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