Sexual Abuse and Disability

Disabled persons subjected to sexual abuse have the right to seek compensation. Contact Edwards Henderson for more information on sexual abuse and disability.

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Key Takeaways

  • Individuals with disabilities face sexual abuse at three times the rate of those without disabilities due to several factors, including systematic discrimination, dependence on caregivers, and ableist structures for reporting crime and accessing care.
  • Sex abuse survivors have the right to pursue compensation from the abuser and third-party institutions responsible for enabling the crime.
  • A sex abuse lawyer can help survivors with disabilities understand their legal options and recover the compensation they deserve to access resources.

Representing Sexual Abuse Survivors With Disability

Sexual abuse is an appalling violation of human rights that affects people of all ages, genders, and abilities. Unfortunately, those living with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, with startling statistics showing that people with disabilities are three to four times more likely to experience some form of sexual abuse than those without disabilities.

At Edwards Henderson Lehrman, our sex abuse lawyers understand the complex legal and emotional issues survivors of sexual abuse may encounter and are dedicated to providing the support they need to seek justice. We are nationally recognized for our dedication to sexual abuse survivors, with a proven track record of success in restoring justice on our clients’ behalf. Contact us today for a free legal consultation and learn more about how we may be able help you.

What is Considered to Be A Disability?

A disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with such a condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them the same way as a person without the condition. Disability can affect someone’s vision, movement, thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, and hearing, as well as mental health, and/or social relationships. Two people with the same type of disability can be affected in very different ways. Some disabilities may be hidden or not very easy to spot.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability as having three dimensions: impairment, activity limitation, and participation restrictions. Impairment means an abnormality or loss of a body part or function. Activity limitation denotes the reduced ability to perform activities within a given context. Participation restriction refers to a problem experienced by someone with a disability when they try to take part in life situations.

In simpler terms, a disability is any condition that limits a person’s capacity to carry out their daily activities and interact with their environment. People with disabilities may require accommodations and specialized support in order to live full, independent lives. There are a variety of ways in which someone is considered disabled, including:

  • Conditions that are present at birth: These conditions may affect functions later in life, such as cognition, mobility, vision, hearing, behavior, and others.
  • Developmental conditions: These become apparent during childhood and are usually associated with conditions such as autism, Down Syndrome, and cerebral palsy.
  • Injury: Disabilities caused by an injury can range from physical to cognitive impairments.
  • Longstanding conditions: A disability can also be caused by a longstanding medical condition that has had an effect on the person’s life, such as vision loss caused due to diabetes.
  • Progressive disabilities: These disabilities are caused by illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy that tend to get worse over time.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is nonconsensual sexual contact, including rape, sexual harassment, and other forms of assault. It also means taking advantage of a person with a disability who is unable to give consent due to their mental or physical condition.

There are several reasons why sexual abuse is rampant among disabled persons. People with disabilities may not receive the same education about sexuality and consent as those without disabilities. Therefore, they may not immediately understand what constitutes acceptable behavior, making them vulnerable to exploitation. Depending on the state laws, someone with a developmental or intellectual disability may not have the ability to give legal consent to sexual activity.

In addition, people with disabilities may rely on the perpetrator for care or support, making it difficult for them to come forward. This dependency can make them feel powerless and unable to seek help or speak up if something inappropriate happens. In some cases, survivors with disabilities may not have the tools to access help.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse, you may contact a sexual abuse lawyer who can help explain your legal rights and hold the responsible parties accountable for the crime.

Sexual Abuse and Disability: Statistics

  • People with disabilities are more than three times more likely to experience serious violent crimes, such as rape and sexual assault.
  • Having multiple disabilities increases a disabled person’s risk of rape and sexual assault.
  • Children with mental health or intellectual disabilities are almost five times more likely than their able-minded/able-bodied peers to experience sexual abuse.
  • A 2005 study found that 60% of individuals with disabilities reported experiencing some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime.
  • According to the Justice Department’s data on sex crimes, those with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at seven times the rate than those without disabilities.
  • Up to 83% of women with disabilities experience some form of sexual abuse.
  • Only 3% of sexual abuse committed against developmentally disabled individuals is ever reported.

This susceptibility to sexual violence is in part fueled by myths about the sexuality and autonomy of disabled people. Unfortunately, there is a lack of comprehensive sex education provided in accessible formats to people with disabilities. Society and the media also fail to provide an accurate representation of disabled people, resulting in general misinformation. This contributes to a culture in which people with disabilities are more likely to face sexual violence, are often targeted because of their disabilities, and often are not believed because of their disabilities.

How Common is Sexual Abuse Against People With Disabilities?

People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse due to multiple factors. These include:

  • Accessibility to people with a disability: Many perpetrators of sexual abuse against those with disabilities are typically family members and friends, as well as those who are involved with disabled people via their profession (healthcare, therapy, education, etc.). This means that people with disabilities often have a closer relationship with the perpetrator, which can make it more difficult for them to report or stop the abuse.
  • Systematic discrimination against people with disabilities: Systematic discrimination is also an issue when it comes to the sexual abuse of disabled persons. Resources have been structured for helping able-minded/able-bodied persons, making it harder for people with disabilities to have access to resources geared toward their unique needs. Stigmatization and discrimination towards those with disabilities make it difficult for them to be believed when they come forward for reporting disability sexual abuse.
  • Lack of education around sex and consent: People with physical disabilities are often misconstrued as being asexual, and many are not educated on sex and consent. Without proper education around these topics, it is much easier for predators to groom these individuals with the purpose of sexually exploiting them.
  • Dependence on third parties, such as institutional caregivers: Another factor that contributes to the prevalence of sexual abuse against people with disabilities is their dependence on third parties, such as institutional caregivers. Many people are abused by those they depend on for their day-to-day needs due to the predators taking advantage of the power imbalance and dependence.
  • Lack of public awareness and information: Low levels of public awareness and information means that many people in a potential position to help are unaware of the warning signs of sexual abuse. As a result, those who might be in danger remain helpless, unable to identify perpetrators or get the help they need.

Who Are the Common Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse Against People With Disabilities?

The perpetrators of sexual abuse against people with disabilities can vary greatly depending on the individual situation. However, there are some common categories of perpetrators:

  • Family members: Due to their position of trust, family members, such as parents, siblings, or other relatives may take advantage of the survivor by exploiting the power dynamics within the relationship.
  • Caregivers: Caregivers have a duty of care to look after the physical and emotional needs of the disabled person. However, this may also give them the opportunity to use their position to take advantage of the disabled person.
  • Co-workers: Depending on the type of disability, many disabled people can work in various settings. Unfortunately, co-workers may use their power and authority to sexually abuse a disabled person in the workplace.
  • Medical professionals: Medical professionals are in a position of trust and should never abuse that trust by taking advantage of their patients. Unfortunately, this does happen, with disabled people being particularly vulnerable.
  • Intimate partners: Individuals in intimate relationships with people with disabilities may use the power dynamics in the relationship to manipulate or abuse them.
  • Strangers: In some cases, strangers may sexually abuse disabled people because they perceive them as easy targets.

At Edwards Henderson Lehrman, our attorneys are experienced in advocating for all survivors of sexual abuse. We have represented sexual abuse survivors who have been victimized by those in authority in a variety of settings, including:

Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities

The statistics around sexual abuse of children with disabilities are alarming. A recent study estimates that children with disabilities are 2.9 times more likely to be survivors of child sex abuse than others. This showcases the vulnerability of children with disabilities to sexual violence and exploitation.

Despite the heightened risk of sexual abuse faced by children with disabilities, they often go unsupported due to factors such as systematic discrimination against people with disabilities, responses and support structured around ableism, and systematic denial of basic information about sexual health and consent. This lack of access to proper care and education leaves many children with disabilities in a vulnerable position, making them susceptible to re-victimization.

We need to be aware that children with disabilities face unique barriers in terms of access to resources, support, and in some cases, understanding of what constitutes a ‘bad touch.’ A multi-faceted approach that includes awareness campaigns, educational initiatives, and implementation of laws is necessary to ensure that children with disabilities receive the support they need and deserve.

If your child with a disability is a survivor of sexual abuse, you may reach out to a child sex abuse lawyer for help.

How Does Sexual Abuse Affect Disabled Survivors?

Sexual abuse can have a long-lasting impact on the mental and physical health of survivors. The devastating effects of sexual abuse are often compounded on disabled survivors due to the additional challenges associated with their disability, such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Gynecological problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Avoidance of certain people or places
  • Reenactment of abuse through self-injury or risky sexual behavior
  • Aggressive or hostile behaviors toward others
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse and other escapist behavior patterns
  • Suicide attempts

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse against persons with disabilities is an epidemic often overlooked and under-reported. It is crucial for family, friends, and caregivers to be aware of the signs of sexual abuse in order to protect their loved ones from harm. Common warning signs of sexual abuse may include:

  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, or other physical injuries
  • Signs of sexually transmitted diseases or infections
  • Sudden changes in hygiene habits, such as not bathing or excessive cleaning
  • Refusal to talk about or disclose any details about a suspected perpetrator
  • Increased fear or avoidance of certain people, places, or activities
  • Unwillingness to discuss topics related to sex or sexuality
  • Changes in behavior or attitude, such as sudden outbursts of anger or depressive episodes
  • Reluctance to undress for bathing or medical purposes
  • Unusual knowledge or interest in sexual activities
  • Self-harming behaviors or suicidal ideation

Disabled Sexual Abuse Survivors: Resources

The trauma of experiencing sexual abuse is an especially difficult and painful burden for those with disabilities. People with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual violence than those without, making it important to provide them with support and helpful resources Fortunately, there are organizations and hotlines available to help disabled sexual abuse survivors find the help they need:

What is Covered Under the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law passed in 1990 to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. It guarantees people with disabilities equal access to the same benefits and resources that are available to people without disabilities. This includes protection from discrimination in employment, accommodations made for transportation and communication, as well as access to government services.

Under the ADA, all rape crisis centers are legally required to provide services to people with disabilities, such as by making reasonable accommodations. For example, rape crisis centers must provide sign language interpreters or other assistive technologies for hearing-impaired people, and provide written material in an accessible format for people with vision impairments.

Reporting Disability Abuse | Steps to Take + Legal Options

After an abuse, it is important to take immediate steps such as:

  1. Seek medical attention: It is crucial to seek medical attention for any physical injuries resulting from the abuse. Make sure to save any medical records and ask for a rape kit, if necessary.
  2. Document the incident: Keep any records of the incident, including notes, emails, photos, or recordings that can be used as evidence in an investigation.
  3. Report the abuse: Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to report the abuse to the proper authorities. This includes local law enforcement, child welfare services, or adult protective services. Make sure to provide all relevant information about the incident.
  4. Contact a legal advocate: A sex abuse attorney can be an invaluable resource for understanding the legal options available after the abuse. An experienced sexual abuse lawyer can provide legal advice and assist in filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator, their employer, or another party that enabled the abuse. A civil sex abuse lawsuit can help you get the compensation you need to secure resources for healing from the trauma of the abuse.

How Can A Disability Sexual Abuse Lawyer Help Me?

If you or a loved one is a survivor of sexual abuse, you should consider seeking legal representation as soon as practicable. An experienced disability sexual abuse lawyer will have a clear understanding of your state’s substantive and procedural laws, such as the applicable statute of limitations and the choice of law principles regarding jurisdiction. They can assist you throughout the legal process by investigating the causes, gathering evidence, and representing your interests in court.

A disability sexual abuse lawyer can provide guidance and advice on how you may report the crime. They would also be able to advocate for your rights and best interests in all formal and out-of-court proceedings.

Sexual Abuse and Disability: FAQs

1. How common is sexual abuse against people with intellectual disabilities?

According to a systematic review conducted to determine the prevalence of sexual abuse in adulthood by individuals with intellectual disabilities, the combined prevalence of sexual abuse in such adults was nearly 33 percent. In other words, one in three adults with an intellectual disability suffers sexual abuse. This indicates that sexual abuse against people with intellectual disabilities is an issue that needs to be taken seriously.

2. Why are people with disabilities more susceptible to sexual abuse?

People with disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual abuse due to a variety of factors, including reliance on a caregiver who may be the perpetrator, lack of available support options or economic resources, and sometimes, even a lack of awareness of the problem. Many disabled sex abuse survivors are more likely to be socially isolated and experience a lack of supervision. For many, it may be difficult to recognize when they are being taken advantage of, as they may become accustomed to feeling powerless and experiencing occasional mistreatment. Sometimes, communication challenges can make it difficult for persons with disabilities to report abuse or seek help.

3. What is ableism?

Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities. It is a form of prejudice that suggests that those who are disabled are inferior to those who are not. Ableism can manifest itself in many forms, such as through exclusionary policies, language and attitudes that devalue disabled people, and lack of accessibility for those with impairments. Ultimately, ableism is rooted in negative attitudes toward disability and reinforces an oppressive social structure. People of all abilities should be treated with dignity and respect; yet ableism continues to be pervasive in our society.

4. Does committing a sex crime against a mentally or physically disabled person require criminal intent?

The answer to this question is yes. Under New York Penal Code 130.10, it is an affirmative defense for the defendant who did not know the facts or conditions responsible for the disabled person’s incapacity to consent and, therefore, did not have the necessary criminal intent. In other words, if a person commits a sex crime against a mentally or physically disabled person, they must have been aware of their incapacity to consent in order for it to be considered a crime. There are, however, nuances to every legal provision, so it is best to consult an experienced sexual assault attorney to understand whether someone is responsible for committing a crime.

5. How may I report sexual abuse against a disabled person?

If you suspect or are aware of an instance of sexual abuse against a disabled person, you should consider reporting the incident. You can contact your local law enforcement agency or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) for assistance in filing a report. Additionally, you may want to contact an attorney who specializes in plaintiff-side sexual abuse to learn more about your rights and options for legal action. If the person being abused is a minor, state laws may require that the situation be reported to Child Protective Services.

6. Does a child with a disability need to be taught about sex?

Absolutely. Every child, regardless of their disability, should be taught about sex and healthy boundaries. For children with disabilities, it is especially important that they receive accurate information and understand their rights. They should be taught the correct names for body parts, as well as how to talk about sexual activity and sexual relationships. This knowledge can help empower them to protect themselves against sexual abuse or exploitation. It is also important to provide them with the right resources and tools to handle any questions or concerns they may have about sex and relationships.

7. I am a parent. How do I talk to my disabled child about sexual abuse?

As a parent of a child with a disability, you should inform your child about sex and consent. It is vital to have open and honest conversations with your child about boundaries, self-love, and what constitutes appropriate behavior. This should include providing education on body autonomy and how to say no. You should help them understand that it is ok to call out or report any uncomfortable or unwanted behavior, including sexual behavior by any person. Keeping communication channels open can also help you recognize any warning signs. If your child does share an unwanted sexual experience, you should do everything possible to support your child and help them feel believed and understood.

8. Can I file a civil sexual abuse lawsuit if the perpetrator was not criminally convicted?

Yes, you can file a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse against the perpetrator even if they were not criminally convicted. Civil lawsuits operate independently from any criminal proceedings, and require a lower burden of proof. Since a civil lawsuit is filed between the survivor and the abused person and responsible third parties, they allow a survivor to seek civil damages in the form of monetary compensation in successful cases.

9. Can I file a lawsuit against organizations affiliated with acts of sexual violence?

Yes, you can file a lawsuit against third-party organizations affiliated with acts of sexual violence. For example, where a healthcare facility or a nursing home owed a duty of care to the survivor and breached such a duty of care, they may be held responsible for any resulting damages. This could include failure to provide appropriate training to staff and/or negligence in addressing reports of sexual abuse. An experienced sexual abuse lawyer can help survivors explore their legal options for pursuing compensation from responsible third parties.

Speak to a Compassionate Sexual Abuse Attorney

Survivors of sexual abuse, particularly those with disabilities, have a difficult time getting justice. The court system is often ill-equipped to handle the unique needs of people with disabilities, and so they are easily overlooked or even mistreated. This is why it is important for disabled survivors of sexual abuse to have access to legal representation from a skilled and knowledgeable attorney who understands disability rights and is sensitive to their needs.

A compassionate sexual abuse attorney understands how to navigate the court system in order to ensure that the survivor’s rights are fully respected and their case is heard in court. They can also provide invaluable emotional support throughout the process. Since a civil sex abuse lawsuit can be difficult, you need an attorney who can provide emotional support and guide you through the process. This is especially important for disabled survivors who may feel isolated and powerless in the face of such an enormous challenge.

At Edwards Henderson Lehrman, our attorneys understand the unique challenges faced by disabled survivors of sexual abuse. We have years of experience successfully representing many survivors of sexual abuse and are dedicated to helping you obtain the justice you deserve. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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