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June 2013Vol. 14, No. 5Sexual Abuse of Children With Disabilities

According to the 2010 Administration on Children Youth and Families (ACYF) report, more than 3 million reports of child maltreatment were made in 2009. Of those cases, 10 percent involved sexual abuse, and 11 percent of sexual abuse victims reported having a disability. The Vera Institute of Justice's Center on Victimization and Safety recently partnered with the Ms. Foundation for Women to research factors contributing to the sexual abuse of children with disabilities and determine possible action steps for prevention.

The project released a research brief that begins by reviewing existing literature, which showed that children with disabilities are at a higher risk for experiencing sexual abuse than children without disabilities. To generate discussion on this issue, the researchers convened a roundtable of 25 subject-matter experts tasked with describing what is currently known about the topic.

The roundtable discussion identified the following factors that contribute to relatively high rates of sexual abuse of children with disabilities:

  • Aspects of children's disabilities and their receipt of disability-specific services heighten risk of sexual abuse.
  • There is a lack of primary prevention tactics aimed at impeding the sexual abuse of children with disabilities.
  • Children with disabilities who have been sexually abused are less likely to receive support services for healing and seeking justice.
  • There are low levels of public awareness with regard to the sexual abuse of children with disabilities.

The authors note that the complexities associated with the problem require a unified and cohesive strategy. Because no such national strategy exists, the authors suggest creating and implementing one based on the factors outlined in the brief. They propose that a strategy can be accomplished by rallying key stakeholders at the local, State, and national levels to join in a unified and concerted effort for large-scale progress.

Sexual Abuse of Children With Disabilities: A National Snapshot, by Nancy Smith and Sandra Harrell, is available on the Vera Institute of Justice website: (385 KB)