Protecting Children with Disabilities from Sexual Abuse
“No one would hurt a child with a disability. The disability protects them.”
“Kids with intellectual disabilities can’t experience trauma because they can’t remember what happened.”
“It’s not appropriate to talk to kids with disabilities about sexuality. They can’t understand and it will just put ideas in their heads.”
There are many misconceptions surrounding children with disabilities and sexual abuse. As a therapist and an educator, I believe it is extremely important to dispel myths, like the ones above, and start openly talking about the prevalence of sexual abuse of children with disabilities and the impact it has on children, families, and society.
The statistics are alarming. Children with a disability are at least three times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than their typically developing peers. Vulnerability increases for children with multiple disabilities, including communication disorders. The abuse is also more likely to be chronic and ongoing. When you look at research detailing lifetime rates of sexual crimes against women with developmental disabilities, the numbers are somewhere between 68 and 83 percent. This means that well over half of women with a developmental disability will be survivors of sexual violence during their lifetime. For many of these women, the abuse started in childhood.
There are many reasons why children with disabilities have an increased risk for abuse. These include need for help with personal care (often without being given a right of refusal), a desire to fit in and be liked by others, an inability to report abuse due to communication difficulties, physical limitations that prevent escape, caregiver dependency and trust, lack of education regarding healthy sexuality and sexual abuse, and societal myths that a disability shields them from sexual abuse.
What can we do as parents and caregivers to protect children with disabilities? The following is a general overview, but keep in mind that you know your child, and his or her developmental level and specific needs, best.
Children with disabilities are not “safe” from sexual abuse, they are even more at risk. Using the tips above you can better protect your child. Don’t let the misconceptions stop you from educating yourself or your child.
Share this Post