The prevalence of sexual abuse toward individuals with disabilities is far greater than most people realize. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people with disabilities are four times as likely to experience sexual assault than the general population. These vulnerable populations have the same rights as everyone else, including the right to seek justice. If you suspect someone with intellectual disabilities has been sexually abused, here are some things you should know, including what you can do to help them hold their abuser accountable. 

Statistics of Sexual Abuse Towards Individuals with Disabilities

The U.S. The Department of Justice defines “disability,” as a wide range of limitations such as sensory (vision, hearing), cognitive, self-care, and ambulatory or mobility limitations. Here are some facts regarding sexual abuse of individuals with disabilities from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

  • Nineteen percent of rapes or sexual assaults against persons with disabilities were reported to police, compared to 36% of those against persons without disabilities.
  • Persons with disabilities were victims of 26% of all nonfatal violent crimes, accounting for about 12% of the population.
  • The rate of violent victimization against persons with disabilities (46.2 per 1,000 age 12 or older) was almost four times the rate for persons without disabilities (12.3 per 1,000).
  • Persons with cognitive disabilities had the highest rate of violent victimization (83.3 per 1,000) among the disability types measured.

According to the Disability Justice Resource Center, around 80% of women and 30% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Another disturbing number is that only 3% of cases will actually be reported. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that women with disabilities were four times more likely to be sexually assaulted or abused than women without disabilities. Still another study published on PubMed Central found that rates of sexual violence against men with disabilities exceeded the rate for women in some years.

Who Perpetuates Sexual Abuse of Individuals with Disabilities?

Sadly, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that most misconduct against people with disabilities is from perpetrators that are closest to them. Many sexual abusers are known to the victim. This includes intimate partners, friends, family, and acquaintances. These results are in stark contrast to the common notion that sexual assault victims are most often attacked by strangers.

Many abusers have access to victims through a professional relationship which leaves the individual in isolated situations. They may be hired to provide personal care, transportation, meals, education, or therapy. In many circumstances, sexual abuse of individuals with disabilities is something the perpetrator is confident they can get away with because the disabled individual may be unable to communicate the abuse effectively. Employers must conduct thorough background checks and have strong policies to mitigate the chance of sexual assault.

How Can You Help Prevent Sexual Abuse of Individuals with Disabilities?

Individuals who reside in a group home for care or another institutional setting are often at a greater risk for abuse because they are easily isolated from witnesses to the abuse. These individuals often lack access to phones or other methods of communication to report the abuse, as well as the ability to communicate effectively. It is essential to monitor areas and times when abuse is more likely to occur so that the individual is not left alone with just one person for extended periods. 

Education is also an issue that can contribute to the prevalence of sexual abuse toward individuals with disabilities. Many children with disabilities do not receive sexual education for several reasons including, societal beliefs about sex and disabilities or because of an honest effort to protect them from bad experiences. Sometimes, it may be difficult for them to understand the information. A lack of education can make it even more difficult for them to reject advances or report them because they do not understand what has happened. Providing sex education can be valuable in helping individuals with disabilities understand the potential dangers. 

Overall, the most important things you can do are provide supervision and a safe place for the individual to talk about what is happening in their lives. If you suspect sexual abuse, ask questions and address your concerns with anyone who may have more insight into the individual’s routine and interactions. If your suspicions are confirmed, you can help the sexual abuse survivor take legal action.  

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Adults with Learning Disabilities

If you suspect that someone you know is a survivor of sexual abuse, it is important to listen to your instincts. Some physical and behavioral signs may be lead indicators of abuse, though everyone responds differently.  

Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse 

Sexual assault can leave physical injuries or other physical evidence that is observable by care providers and those close to the disabled individual. These include:

  • Pain in the genital areas; 
  • Headaches or abdominal pain; 
  • Difficulty sitting or walking; 
  • Sexually transmitted diseases; 
  • Tearing of vaginal or anal area; and
  • Stained underwear, clothing, or bed linen. 

Signs of physical abuse or attacks such as cuts, bruising, and acute pain in any location could also be a sign of sexual abuse. 

Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse

Changes in behavior are common for all survivors of sexual assault but may be more pronounced when the individual cannot communicate what happened to them. Here are some of the behavioral changes to watch for. 

  • Self-destructive behavior, 
  • Depression, 
  • Irritability, 
  • Appetite changes, 
  • Withdrawal, 
  • New fear of specific people or places, 
  • Crying spells, 
  • Nightmares or other sleep changes, 
  • Sexually inappropriate behaviors, 
  • Negative body image, 
  • Children using sexual language, 
  • New learning difficulties, and
  • Increased silence.

Understanding when and where they are most vulnerable and paying close attention to who they interact with is important. If something does not seem right, it is essential to address it, by asking them questions, speaking to their care provider’s supervisor, or further investigating. 

How to Help Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted

Someone with intellectual disabilities will likely need help confronting their abuser and seeking justice. At Boucher LLP, we understand the difficulties associated with sexual abuse of individuals with disabilities and are here to provide compassionate legal representation. We have extensive experience in sexual abuse cases and seeking justice for our clients. Contact us to schedule your free case consultation.