Sexual Violence Against People with Disabilities

Jul 13th, 2022

By Chelsea Hood, Underserved Populations Policy Advocate & Training Assistant

Sexual violence against people with disabilities (PWD) is a silent epidemic, often overlooked both within and outside of reproductive health rights and justice circles (Thompson et al., 2021). The term “disability,” as used by the DOJ in the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS), includes a wide range of limitations such as sensory (vision, hearing), cognitive, self-care, and ambulatory or mobility limitations (RAINN, 2022). Research shows that people with multiple disabilities are almost five times more likely than nondisabled peers to experience rape and sexual assault (Thompson et al.,2021). Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence for people with disabilities to experience over-controlled environments that restrict their decisions and choices; these settings have a negative impact on their decision-making about their bodies and sexualities.

Oftentimes, PWD are forgotten in sexual education, and this can cause a disconnect with understanding their bodies, sexual health, healthy boundaries, and  relationships.. Due to negative attitudes about PWD, it can be difficult for them to disclose their sexual assault and to seek help because they may not be believed or could be told that they may not have known what was happening.

According to Disability Justice (2022):

  • 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives.
  • Just 3% of sexual abuses involving people with developmental disabilities is ever reported.
  • 50% of girls who are deaf have been sexually abused compared to 25% of girls who are hearing; 54% of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused in comparison to 10% of boys who are hearing.
  • Women with a disability are far more likely to have a history of undesired sex with an intimate partner—19.7% vs. 8.2%.
  • Approximately 80% of women and 30% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted—one half of these women have been assaulted more than ten times.

Rigid social norms and societal attitudes greatly affect people with disabilities in a negative manner and can increase the likelihood of abuse. Assistance barriers, such as lack of transportation access, lack of access to technology, and reasonable skepticism of certain caregivers influences their experiences of social isolation. This may include assistance that is not in American Sign Language (ASL) for individuals who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing; overreliance on verbal communication or evidence; or agencies or organizations that are not equipped to assist people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities (Indiana Disability, 2019). Perpetrators who intentionally harm people with disabilities are seeking individuals that they feel will not be believed or able to communicate their abuse or those they know fear retaliation from reporting abuse (WCSAP, 2022). It is vital for advocates, service providers, and organizations to be prepared to effectively respond to survivors with disabilities.

Additionally, advocates and service providers must understand that people have visible and invisible disabilities, so offering accommodations and assuring accessibility will help connect with disabilities to your services. To learn more about the PWD community that has been impacted by sexual violence and resources, visit Disability Justice and visit DeafDAWN for information on domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking in the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and DeafBlind communities.



Disability Justice (2022). Sexual abuse. Retrieved from

Indiana Disability Justice (2019). Risk factors for sexual violence among people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Retrieved from

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). (2022). Sexual abuse of people with disabilities. Retrieved from

Thompson, V., Ellmann, N., & Cokley, R. (2021). Sexual violence and the disability community. Retrieved from

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (2022). Disability: Advocacy considerations. Retrieved from

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