The very disturbing problem of sexual abuse and sexual assault against developmentally disabled individuals was recently brought to my attention by National Public Radio (NPR).
NPR did an episode of Morning Edition and All Things Considered on the subject which you can find on their website at For Some With Intellectual Disabilities, Ending Abuse Starts With Sex Ed , In Their Words, Adults With Intellectual Disabilities Tell Their Sexual Assault Stories, and The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About.
Of course, I have not been unaware of the problem, but up until then it was the kind of problem that I didn’t really want to think about.
But not thinking about it isn’t going to help the situation and as the aging mother of an adult daughter who is profoundly affected by an intellectual disability, it is crucial for her safety that I start thinking about it.
The statistic are really quite horrifying!
According to one study:
- A staggering 49% of individuals with developmental disabilities will experience 10 or more incidents of sexual abuse in their lifetimes!
- An even more staggering and terrifying 97% to 99% of the sexual abusers are people that the disabled victim knows and trusts.
- 32% of sexual crimes against the disabled are done by family members or acquaintances.
- 44% of sexual crimes against the disabled are inflicted by trusted caregivers.
- People with communication and/or behavioral disorders are at a higher risk of being sexually abused than the general public.
- Developmentally disabled children are 4 times more likely than their typical peers to be sexually abused.
Contrary to what some ignorant people believe, sexual assault is NOT a crime of lust.
Sexual assault is a crime of violence, anger, power and control!
It is sex being used as a weapon against the victim!
Sexual abuse is not necessarily physical.
Exposing one’s genitals, showing pornography, and using sexually explicit language are all forms of sexual abuse!
The effects of sexual assault/abuse are devastating.
Sexual assault can adversely affect the victim psychologically, physically and behaviorally.
The sexual abuse of the developmentally disabled often goes unreported. As a result, unwanted and untreated pregnancies and STD’s frequently occur.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse of the disabled so often goes unreported because many of our precious children don’t understand what has happened to them and/or they can’t tell us.
If your intellectually impaired loved one suddenly begins suffering with any of the following symptoms, they may have recently been sexually abused:
- Sleep disorders
- Panic attacks
- Feelings of guilt
- Loss of trust
- Self injury
- Sexually inappropriate behavior
What can we do to prevent further sex crimes against our most vulnerable population?
- Society needs to recognize and admit that sex crimes against the disabled exists.
- Society needs to believe that people with developmental disabilities are equally as valuable as the non-disabled.
- Employees working with the disabled should be required to submit to routine and continuing background checks, not just when they are first employed.
- Sex crimes against the disabled need to be reported. Report them even if only suspected. Proof is not required to report a sexual crime.
- People with intellectual impairments need to receive a sex education at a level they can understand.
- And lastly, in my opinion, too many schools and other authority figures use teaching methods that emphasize and require the complete compliance and obedience of their disabled students. Since the majority of the people committing these crimes are also authority figures our children think they must obey them no matter what!
Parents, if our children can understand and communicate, we must:
- Teach them about sex.
- Make sure they know what appropriate and inappropriate touching is and that they can refuse to let someone touch them.
- Be sure our children understand that they do NOT have to obey a teacher or caregiver who tries to sexually abuse them.
- Teach them that they should tell us if someone touches then inappropriately or hurts them in any way.
For our precious children that can’t communicate, we must:
- Make sure everyone working with our children have authentically good references.
- Require periodic background checks. Not just when initially hired.
- Only leave our children alone with a caretaker if we totally trust them and feel comfortable doing so.
- Not be pressured into leaving our children with anyone or in any situation that we might have a “bad gut feeling” about. Parents should trust their instincts.