Personal Story

Feature Issue on Self-Advocacy for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Self-Advocacy Helped Me Learn to be Brave

My name is James Meadours and I’m a rape survivor. I’m also a person with intellectual disability who has been doing work for many years in the Self-Advocacy Movement. Today, I tell my story about sexual assault that happened to me to help others know they are not alone. I want to help support people to know what they can do to help survivors heal. Being a leader in self-advocacy helped me find courage to speak out about sexual assault.

James Meadours, seated in a short-sleeved blue collared shirt with arms stretched over his head, motions excitedly about being involved in a public awareness campaign to help victims of sexual assault.

While filming a video about surviving sexual violence, James Meadours reacts excitedly to the idea that his message would reach a broad audience of people with and without disabilities.

Self-advocacy helped me learn how to be brave, but being a self-advocate also means asking for help when you need it. I got help to see a mental health therapist, who talked to me about sexual assault and helped me understand what happened to me. Other survivors need help to get a therapist, like I did.

Self-advocates live in the real world, where sometimes bad things happen. When I told someone about the sexual assault, I didn’t get put in a bubble where nothing bad could ever happen again. No one should put a dome around survivors. It would make things worse. The person’s self-esteem and self-confidence would go down.

Self-advocacy taught me I need friends, peers, and mentors to be a family for me when trying heal from sexual assault. As a person who does not have a father’s love and younger siblings in my life, I miss that very much. It is a big hole in my life. For survivors who have holes like me, it’s really important to have friends and peers to help.

Standing up for yourself as a survivor of sexual assault could mean asking for a new caregiver because that person sexually assaulted you. I now know it’s fine to replace that person with a new caregiver. You may have to take a big risk to stand up to tell what happened to you. I know it’s scary to tell. Self-advocacy can help you feel safe to tell.

A big part of being a self-advocate is talking to someone else about sexual assault – like a church leader or friend you can trust who will help you talk to police if you want to report it.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from being a survivor is to take time to recover before helping others. Advocating for yourself all the time can be tiring. I tried to go out and change the world with my story about sexual assault. But I needed to get help first. After about a year of counseling, I started sharing my story with others and it has helped me heal. As self-advocates, we have to remember it’s OK to take a break, to give ourselves time to heal, before we try changing the world.