Breaking the Silence: Sexual Assault and Disabilities

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People with disabilities experience sexual assault at alarmingly high rates – much higher than people without disabilities. Consider these statistics:

  • 90% of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) will experience sexual abuse at some point during their lives.[1]
  • Women with I/DD are 10.7 times as likely to be sexually assaulted than other women.[2]
  • 50% of people with I/DD will experience 10 or more incidents of sexual abuse.[1]

A couple of the reasons people with disabilities experience sexual assault are the closeness of the perpetrators and barriers to reporting what happened.


People with disabilities can be easy targets and the perpetrators are likely to be someone close to them, like a family member or caregiver. The perpetrator has easy access to the person with a disability, and knows their vulnerabilities, routines, etc. For example, if the person with a disability spends part of their day in an isolated setting – where no one is watching – a perpetrator may exploit this situation.


A person with a disability who has been sexually assaulted may face various barriers that prevent them from reporting what happened to them. Below are just some of the potential barriers.

  • Retaliation: The individual may fear that the perpetrator, who has access to them, could retaliate if they found out it was reported.
  • Credibility: Society may incorrectly perceive people with disabilities as being less credible, so the individual may think no one will believe them, even if they do report the incident.
  • Stigma: Most people who experience sexual assault don’t want to talk about it for various reasons, including the stigma associated with these incidents.
  • Accessibility: Methods for reporting incidents may not be accessible to people with disabilities.

Report it

Even with the challenges described above, it’s important that instances of sexual assault experienced by people with disabilities are reported. The survivor should be able to pursue justice and the perpetrator should be held accountable.

According to Texas laws, anyone who has a reasonable cause to believe an adult with a disability is being abused must report it to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

There are a few ways you can report abuse to DFPS:

  • Phone: 1-800-252-5400
  • Online: Texas Abuse Hotline Website
  • Relay: Use the relay service of your choice or use Relay Texas at 7-1-1. Tell the relay operator to call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.

Also, for additional information about getting help and support, see Sexual Assault and People with Disabilities.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month



[1] Valenti-Hein, D. & Schwartz, L. 1995. The Sexual Abuse Interview for those with Developmental Disabilities. Santa Barbara, CA: James Stanfield Publishing Company
[2]Carlene Wilson & Neil Brewer (1992) The incidence of criminal victimisation of individuals with an intellectual disability, Australian Psychologist, 27:2, 114-117, DOI: 10.1080/00050069208257591