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Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any form of nonconsensual sexual activity, encompassing all unwanted sexual acts from intimidation to touching to penetration. 1 Sexual assault is a form of violence that uses sex to humiliate, intimidate, control or instill fear in another person, including any forced or unwanted sexual activity, rape, incest, and sexual abuse. Sexual assault can be committed by the use or threat of force or under circumstances where a person is incapable of consenting.

Sexual assault is a crime in all 50 states; laws vary among states and jurisdictions. To learn more about your state’s laws, you can go to the Women's Law Initiative's website This link will open a new browser window.. You can also find more information about your state's laws by visiting its official state government site. In addition, the Office on Violence Against Women's website has a comprehensive list of state sexual assault coalitions This link will open a new browser window..

Risk

General

Anyone can be a victim/survivor of sexual assault regardless of age, ability, gender, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, but women are the most affected group. Overall, women are the most likely victims of sexual violence. According to an National Institute of Justice study, 93% of female sexual assault survivors and 86% of male sexual assault survivors are assaulted by men. 2 Thus, while both men and women perpetrate sexual violence, men are the most likely to be perpetrators. Additionally, in 75-85% of the cases, the perpetrator was known to the victim/survivor, i.e. a relative, parent, friend, co-worker, date, acquaintance, or caregiver.

For Women with Disabilities

More research on sexual assault and women with disabilities and Deaf women is needed. However, some research suggests that women with specific disabilities experience higher risk than women with other disabilities or women without disabilities. Intellectual disabilities, communication disorders, and behavioral disorders appear to be assocaited with very high levels of risk. 3 For example, one study found that women with developmental disabilities are four to ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women without a developmental disability. Moreover, women with developmental disabilities are more likely to experience repeated victimization. 4

Additionally, perpetrators are most often known to the victim/survivor. One research study found that 97-99% of abusers are known and trusted by the victim/ survivor who has an intellectual disability. 32% of those abusers are family and 44% are people who specifically have a relationship with the person because of their disability—they are caregivers, drivers or residential care staff.

Possible Explanations for Increased Risk

Perpetrators of sexual assault may target women with disabilities for many reasons. Some perpetrators may perceive that women with disabilities and Deaf women tend to be socially or physically isolated and can be easily manipulated into trusting someone. Others might exploit the fact that oftentimes these victims/ survivors tend to not report such experiences to others. And, while many of these perceptions are based in stereotypes about people with disabilities in general, they can affect the safety of some women.

It is also important to note that women with disabilities are not often believed when they report a sexual assault. This can most definitely also be a reason for increased risk, as perpetrators will believe they will not be caught or prosecuted.

In This Section

We provide you with more detailed information to help you better understand the many deleterious implications of sexual assault and the effects it has on Deaf women and women with disabilities, including:

1California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Campus Violence Prevention Resource Guides. 2002.


2Tjaden, Patricia and Nancy Thoennes. Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. US Dept of Justice: November 1998 (p.8).


3Sullivan, P.M. & Knutson, J.F. The relationship between child abuse and neglect and disabilities: Implications for research and practice. Omaha, NE: Boys Town National Research Hospital, 1994.


4Sobsey, D. Violence and Abuse in the Lives of People with Disabilities: The End of Silent Acceptance? Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H Brookes Publishing Co, Inc., 1994.