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“Misperceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities and a subsequent history of oppression also put people with disabilities at an increased risk to experience sexual assault.” - People with Disabilities and Sexual Assault

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.


Thanks for raising awareness once more to the increased vulnerability that mark  individuals with disabilities.  As members or visitors of our church community they deserve the opportunity to flourish and be loved.  A caring faith community provides  protection and support at all times.


Hello Rachel:


You note that the offenders are almost exclusively male (88 - 98%).  Where is this number from and can this even remotely be associated with church where the vast majority of caregiver/overseers are female?

Thank you


Rachel Boehm on October 11, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As mentioned in my blog, that reference is taken from the from Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault:

Here is the complete reference:

88 to 98% of sexual abusers are male and are known by the victim/survivor who has disabilities.

Sobsey, D. & Mansell, S. 1994. An International Perspective on Patterns of Sexual Assault and Abuse of People

with Disabilities.

Whether these statistics would play out similarly in your church community, I am not sure. However, certainly statistics like these make us aware that most abusers of individuals with disabilities are known by their victims.  Please feel free to cite other references; my list is certainly not meant to be comprehensive but rather get readers thinking about this topic.

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