People with Disabilities Face a Greater Risk of Sexual Abuse

Disabilities and Sexual AbuseChildren and adults with disabilities face a greater risk of sexual abuse, commonly because they cannot identify or report the abuse.

It is important for their family members and loved ones to understand how to identify sexual abuse, provide the support that they need, and help them get the legal assistance and justice they deserve.

The horrific, silent epidemic

According to an article by the National Public Radio (NPR), individuals with disabilities are an entire population that continuously suffers sexual abuse. They are called the “silent population,” and are victims of sexual abuse at rates over seven times than individuals without disabilities. This is the highest rate of sexual abuse in any population, community, or group across the United States, and this fact is rarely ever mentioned. After research and analysis of federal data, NPR found hundreds of sexual abuse cases involving disabled individuals, and these cases “go mostly unrecognized, unprosecuted and unpunished.” There is clearly a sexual abuse epidemic for people with disabilities.

Statistics you should know

Regarding sexual abuse and disabled individuals:

  • Over 90 percent of all people with disabilities will be sexually abused in their lifetime.
  • Disability makes women three times more likely to be sexually abused.
  • Children with disabilities have a 15 percent chance of being sexually abused.

Why are people with disabilities more likely to be victimized?

People with disabilities are more likely to be sexually abused because they are a vulnerable population. They may have physical, developmental, or intellectual disabilities that prevent them from knowing they were abused. If they are aware that they are being sexually abused, they most likely cannot fight back, protect themselves, or communicate well enough to get the assistance they need to stop the abuse from happening.

In addition, disabled individuals are typically taught to obey people from a young age, and this continues throughout adulthood. It is also common for family members or caregivers to not believe them due to their intellectual disability. Instead, many people assume that they are “imagining” or “making up” these terrible events in their heads. Unfortunately, most perpetrators are also aware of this, which enables them to victimize or re-victimize the disabled individual with no repercussions.

Are there certain disabilities that are most vulnerable to sexual abuse?

A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information explains that people with disabilities are at a greater risk of sexual victimization than nondisabled people across their entire lifespan. Therefore, disabled children, adults, and elderly have a very high chance of being sexually abused in their lives. Some disabilities that are most vulnerable to sexual abuse include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Down Syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Blindness
  • Hearing loss or deafness
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Spina bifida
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Prader-Willi
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Williams Syndrome

Signs of sexual abuse

Since disabled individuals may have trouble informing you about their sexual abuse, knowing the signs is critical. However, keep in mind that the signs could also be different for each age group. Here are some signs you should keep an eye out for:

  • Nightmares
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Trouble focusing and concentrating
  • Constant crying or regressive behaviors, such as thumb-sucking.
  • Mood swings and mood changes
  • Refusing to eat or drink
  • Depression
  • Lack of hygiene or refusing to shower
  • Harming oneself
  • No longer wanting to talk about certain people, events, or activities they once enjoyed
  • Bruises, scratches, bleeding, and other injuries, especially near the genital areas
  • Sexually transmitted diseases or urinary tract infections
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia or fear
  • Withdrawal
  • Wetting the bed
  • Sexual knowledge or behavior that seems inappropriate based on age
  • Refusing to go certain places or be around certain people

Who are people with disabilities most likely to be abused by?

People with disabilities are most likely to be abused by the individuals they are closest to. This may be teachers, caregivers, friends, therapists, neighbors, classmates, medical providers, and even family members. Disabled individuals depend on these individuals to care for and provide them with many needs throughout the day, giving abusers the perfect opportunity to exploit them. People with disabilities may not know who to tell or how to speak out against someone they spend a lot of time with and rely on for their basic needs.

Where can sexual abuse occur in Seattle?

A few of the most common places where sexual abuse may occur in Seattle include:

  • School or classes
  • Church
  • Home
  • Work
  • Hospitals or doctor’s offices
  • Long-term care facilities (nursing homes)
  • A friend’s house
  • Library
  • Sport facilities
  • In a vehicle when transporting to events or appointments

At Smith McBroom, we know how difficult it can be to get people to believe that your child or family member is being sexually abused. Our Seattle sexual abuse attorneys are ready and available to help you ensure that the perpetrator is held accountable. We can look over the facts and circumstances of your case and determine what type of legal options you might pursue. Our team has the experience, skills, and resources to fight schools, school districts, medical offices, long-term care facilities, and anywhere else abuse occurs. Please call our office in Tukwila or submit our contact form to schedule a free and confidential consultation.