Sexual violence against people with disabilities

Between 2008 and 2010, 197 people with disabilities attended Rape Crisis Centres, according to research funded by the National Disability Authority. More than nine in ten of these were survivors of sexual violence.

Overall, there were similarities between the details of the sexual violence reported by those with disabilities and by others contacting Rape Crisis Centres for counselling and support. There were a few clear differences however

  • Survivors with disabilities were more likely to disclose having been abused solely as adults, and less likely to report having been solely abused as children, than others.
  • Women with disabilities were more vulnerable to sexual violence as they got older, in contrast to other survivors.
  • Survivors with disabilities were more likely than others to have experienced multiple incidents of sexual violence.
  • Another part of the study explored the barriers to disclosure by people with disabilities of sexual violence, through an anonymous online survey, in which 50 respondents identified as survivors of sexual violence.

Of these, 30% were disclosing for the first time. The survey also showed many of the survivors had never received any information on where to go for support, nor been asked whether they had experienced sexual violence.

The top barriers to disclosure were fear of being blamed; fear of not being believed; or fear of the legal process. About a quarter mentioned fear of losing support as a factor in not disclosing abuse.

The survey also highlighted the need to ensure that sexual violence services are accessible and skilled in delivering appropriate services and supports to people with disabilities who contact them, and that they are perceived as accessible by people with disabilities.

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