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Sexual abuse of those with disabilities

More than 90 percent of people with developmental disabilities will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Forty-nine percent will experience 10 or more abusive incidents (Valenti-Hein & Schwartz, 1995).

There are many reasons for these overwhelming numbers. People with disabilities are taught to be compliant, dependent on others. Many people with disabilities are afraid to tell anyone that sexual abuse is occurring, while many others do not know what sexual assault is, or that it is against the law. Many people with disabilities also lack information about their bodies, relationships, and sexuality.

Additionally, many people with disabilities have not been taught boundaries. This situation is made worse with high turnover in residential programs where new staff (i.e. strangers) are bathing people with disabilities within hours of meeting them.

Few people who commit these crimes are ever charged or convicted.

This means that many people are not punished for these crimes, and that the perpetrators will not show up on criminal checks used to keep people with disabilities safe.

Many people who work in the disability system do not know the Pennsylvania sexual assault laws. Sexual assault that occurs between people with disabilities is often not treated as a crime.

Additionally, many people with developmental disabilities are not able to give consent to sexual relationships because of cognitive and/or communication limitations. Sexual relationships in these situations could be against the law.

Read our factsheet about the Adult Protective Services Act and reporting/confidentiality requirements.

Related: Learn more about the SAFE curriculum