Practice Issues in Sexuality and Learning Disabilities

By Ann Craft | Go to book overview

5

Sexual abuse of individuals with intellectual disability

Dick Sobsey

Sexual abuse of individuals with disabilities appears to be an extremely prevalent problem in contemporary society. Although it appears that many cases go unreported and remain unknown to anyone other than the offender and victim (Ryerson 1981), reported rates of sexual abuse of children with disabilities and sexual assault of adults with disabilities are high (Sobsey and Varnhagen 1990).

Doucette (1986) found that women with a variety of disabilities were about one and a half times as likely to have been sexually abused as children as non-disabled women. Ammerman et al. (1989) found that 36 per cent of multihandicapped children admitted to an American psychiatric institution had known histories of sexual abuse. Jacobson and Richardson (1987) found high rates of sexual assault among women admitted to psychiatric care and discovered that 81 out of 100 women admitted had a history of major physical or sexual assault prior to admission. Sullivan et al. (1987) cite several studies suggesting that 54 per cent of deaf boys and 50 per cent of deaf girls are sexually abused as children. Considering the presented norms for sexual abuse in the general population of 10 per cent of boys and 25 per cent for girls, these figures suggest the rate of sexual abuse is doubled for girls and five times as high for boys who are deaf. Brookhouser et al. (1986) previously had reported high rates of sexual abuse among hearing-impaired children. Davies (1979) found abnormal EEG readings and active epilepsy in three to four times as many incest victims as in a matched control group. Although there is great variability in the extent of increased risk for sexual abuse of people with disabilities and although there remain some concerns regarding sample sizes and selection methods that make precise interpretation of these findings difficult, the general finding of increased risk is uniform (Sobsey and Varnhagen 1990). Stimpson and Best (1991) interviewed 85 Canadian women with disabilities and more than 70 per cent reported that they had been victims of sexual violence. Of

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