Adults or children with disabilities are at increased risk of abuse and sexual assaults. While churches develop safe church plans and policies, it is important to be aware of the unique risks faced by individuals with disabilities, why they face greater risks, and to address these risks accordingly in our congregations.
According to the FaithTrust Institute, at greatest risk of abuse among individuals with disabilities are persons:
- with multiple disabilities
- with developmental disabilities
- with communication disabilities
- born with disability or acquired disability in early childhood
The Information Sheet People with Disabilities and Sexual Assault , developed by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, explains that -- because sexual assaults are primarily motivated out of anger and power -- abusers and sex offenders seek victims whom they believe will be vulnerable and isolated. Individuals with disabilities experience many layers of vulnerability and, therefore, are targeted more often by offenders.
According to the same fact sheet:
- Among developmentally disabled adults, as many as 83% of the females and 32% of the males are victims of sexual assault.
- Individuals with psychiatric disabilities are twice as likely as the general population to be the victim of a violent crime, including sexual assault.
- Males with disabilities are twice as likely than males without disabilities to be sexually abused in their lifetime.
- 88 to 98% of sexual abusers are male and are known by the victim/survivor who has disabilities.
- 33% of abusers are acquaintances, 33% are natural or foster family members, and 25% are caregivers or service providers.
Despite these alarming statistics, only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving individuals with disabilities are ever reported. It is, therefore, important for program volunteers in our churches to know how to recognize the signs of abuse.