According to numerous research studies, kids with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual abuse. Children with mental health and intellectual disabilities have an even higher likelihood to become victims. People with disabilities often require special care and attention, so how is it that these kids are so much more vulnerable to abuse?
Opportunities and independence
People with disabilities do not receive the same opportunities as people without disabilities. In turn, children with disabilities are often left more vulnerable and isolated. Many disability services do not focus on empowering children with independence, instead, methods focus on notions of dependency. For example, some kids are not given choices of what to wear or eat.
Children with disabilities are taught to be completely compliant to authority figures. Just as in cases of abuse for children without disabilities, sexual abuse is often perpetrated by someone close to them. Abusers are often linked to the child through their disability, such as caretakers, therapists, or other professionals. If children do not know how to make their own choices or say, “no,” then how can they say, “no” to a predator?
Education and support
Children with disabilities often do not receive the same education about sex and relationships that other kids receive. Kids may be sheltered from the realities of sexual health and therefore do not understand the difference between good or bad physical touch. Without sexual knowledge and language, they do not have the tools to express past abuse.
Additionally, kids with disabilities are less likely to get the support they need after abuse has occurred. Without therapy and care, young victims of sexual abuse will experience long-lasting effects such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Measures to prevent sexual abuse
Better prevention efforts are needed to help children with disabilities. Parents, loved ones, educators, therapists and anyone involved can help. Consider these prevention methods:
- Provide equal opportunity to sexual education and talk about body parts
- Teach kids about physical boundaries
- Encourage choice-making and independence
- Offer measures of healing and justice for victims of abuse