Arizona Woman in Vegetative State Gives Birth After Being Raped

A shocking case in which an unnamed Native American Arizona woman in a nonresponsive state gave birth to a baby –  indirectly testifying to her sexual assault in one of the worst imaginable ways — is attracting global headlines.

For the disability community, the shock and outrage are a reminder that — despite the fact that sexual abuse against disabled people, especially in long-term care facilities like this one, has been well-documented – many nondisabled people remain unaware of the crisis of sexual violence confronting disabled people. And the crisis is particularly stark for Native American women.

Few facts in this case are available. We know that the victim had been in a persistent vegetative state, meaning that she was not responsive to stimuli and did not demonstrate self-awareness, for about ten years after a near-drowning. We also know that she was living at Hacienda Healthcare, a long-term care facility that had actually been cited before for inappropriate behavior by staff.

Staff at the facility were reportedly unaware that she was pregnant until she began moaning as she went into labor, later giving birth to a baby boy on December 29. Reports say he is healthy and doing well.

Police are investigating, and the state has taken interest too. The long-term care facility — perhaps unsurprisingly — has limited its comments to the media about the situation, only noting that it takes the welfare of residents seriously. The CEO has also resigned.

Much of the coverage of this case uses weasel words like “alleged rape” to describe what happened to the victim. This kind of language is often used for legal reasons to avoid exposing an outlet to a libel suit, but a woman in a nonresponsive state, by nature, cannot consent to sex. Nor can she consent to pregnancy, making this a dual violation of her autonomy.

This is not the first time a patient in long-term care without the capacity for consent has had a pregnancy as a result of rape. One such case attracted considerable attention in the 1990s after a patient’s family declined an abortion for their comatose and sexually abused family member, instead opting to force her to carry the pregnancy to term.

Sadly, a pregnancy is sometimes the first warning sign of sexual abuse in nonresponsive patients or people with limited capacity to advocate for themselves. Infuriatingly, this fact has been used to justify forced sterilization – a practice that targeted women of color, like the victim in this case, with particularly devastating consequences.

Nondisabled people are sometimes shocked by cases like these because they confuse rape with sexuality, rather than power; those who rape patients in long-term care facilities are using their positions of power over vulnerable people, and they may engage in both physical and sexual abuse.

Disabled people who are able to verbalize what’s happening can be disbelieved when they report rape, thanks to social attitudes about disability. This trend leads people to view them as “easy targets,” people who may be less likely to report, and less likely to be believed if they do.

Disabled people overall are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than nondisabled people. Among people with cognitive disabilities, like the brain injury that this victim experienced, the rate is even higher.

For Native American women, who experience sexual assault at shockingly high rates – often committed by perpetrators outside their communities — the risk of sexual abuse is amplified. These statistics have been widely circulated in the disability community, and in commentaries calling on nondisabled people to proactively include disabled people in movements like #MeToo. Yet, they still tend to be a source of surprise, in a testimony to the social value of disabled people.

As coverage of this case emerges, it’s a good time to reflect on how much you know about the disability community, and about how disabled people are vulnerable to abuse and assault. Sometimes these abuses can take different forms; for example, partners may withhold food, medication or assistance with tasks of daily living. They may use someone’s disability status against them — as for example, when someone who takes medication that makes her drowsy is sexually assaulted by a partner. Or caregivers may exploit vulnerabilities in people who need help bathing, going to the bathroom, dressing and performing other intimate activities like using menstrual products.

When this case comes up in conversation, ask people to think about integrating a disability element into discussions about rape and sexual assault. Explicitly connect this case with the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as the racialized disparities in sexual assault statistics.

And contact your state lawmakers to ask them about regulatory oversight in long-term care facilities and what steps are being taken to combat physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect.

Take Action!

Hacienda HealthCare has clearly shown that it is unable to properly care for its residents and must be held accountable for their negligence. Please sign this Care2 petition demanding that Arizona shut down this nursing facility now.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo Credit: Getty Images


Leo C
Leo C1 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Leo C
Leo C1 months ago

thank you for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 months ago

Whoever he was, he should get the death penalty!

Liliana G
Liliana G2 months ago

Amparo: I agree with eutanasia as long the person is able to decide. In this case she's unable to do so.

Madison I
Madison I2 months ago

DNA tests of workers to the baby should solve the mystery. I hope they find the creep.

rita uljee
rita uljee2 months ago

do hope they `ll find the vicious discusting rapist who did this and what a terrible start for this baby !

Amparo Fabiana C
Amparo Fabiana C2 months ago

Terrible, but ten years in vegetative state, why is the family keeping her alive. Maybe a family visitor, a caretaker. Religious and dogma beliefs, but I believe in euthanasia kindness to rest in peace, her body was raped that is not peace. Bless the baby,

Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Hope they find the disgusting creep!

Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

Rape in nursing homes is not all that uncommon. It happens to many dementia patients as well. Rigorous screening needs to be done before hiring male aides. It doesn't help that there isn't usually enough money to have enough staff to keep a good vigil on the more vulnerable patients. The perpetrator can be a visitor as well. They are seldom supervised.

Rita Delfing
Rita D2 months ago

Shocking and beyond disgusting, I think all employees should have dna testing to find out who the perpetrator is, this type of behaviour is vile. However I doubt anything will ever be done, she's aboriginal, she is female and rape when you can defend yourself is hard enough, pfft! what a gong show.