The Vulnerability of Disabled Girls

By Dr. Christina Sisti

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

There is a plan and a purpose, a value to every life, no matter what its location, age, gender or disability. Sharron Angle

Girls with disabilities who experience sexual violence often know their perpetrator. In most cases, it is a family member, acquaintance, residential care staff, transport provider or personal care attendant.Research by The ARC suggests that 97 to 99 percent of abusers are known and trusted by the victim while in 32 percent of cases, abusers consist of family members or acquaintances, 44 percent had a relationship with the victim specifically related to the person’s disability.2 
ARC further supports the theory that those with disabilities are more apt to be victims of sexual assault due to America’s societal views when they state: “Studies consistently demonstrate that people with intellectual disability are sexually victimized more often than others who do not have a disability.”2
Studies consistently demonstrate that people with intellectual disability are sexually victimized more often than others who do not have a disability. For example, one study reported that 25 percent of girls and women with intellectual disability who were referred for birth control had a history of sexual violence.2 Other studies suggest that 49 percent of people with intellectual disability will experience 10 or more sexually abusive incidents.
Any disability appears to contribute to higher risk of victimization, but intellectual disability, communication disorders, and behavioral disorders appear to contribute to very high levels of risk, and having multiple disabilities (e.g., intellectual disability and behavior disorders) result in even higher risk levels.
Women are sexually assaulted more often when compared to men whether they have a disability or not, so men with disabilities are often overlooked. Researchers have found that men with disabilities are twice as likely to become a victim of sexual violence compared to men without disabilities.2
Sexual violence is an unwanted side effect for those with disabilities because they are burdened by the belief they are not intellectually capable, and they are not sexual beings.  
  • 50% of girls who are deaf have been sexually abused compared to 25% of girls 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 with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted – half of these women have been assaulted more than ten times. The World Health Organization conducted a study and found.

The review on the prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities, published in July 2012, found that overall children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children.

The review indicated that children with disabilities are 3.7 more times likely than nondisabled children to become victims of any type of violence, 3.6 more times likely to be victims of physical violence, and 2.9 more times likely to be victims of sexual violence. Children with mental or intellectual impairments appear to be amongst the most vulnerable, with 4.6 times the risk of sexual violence than their non-disabled peers.3

Further substantiating the results of sexual public policy for women of disabilities leads to a higher victimization rate than those who are able-bodied is the report by Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities reported the following findings:
Violent crime by type of crime 
In 2010, the age-adjusted violent victimization rate for persons with disabilities (28 violent victimizations per 1,000) was almost twice the rate among persons without disabilities (15 violent victimizations per 1,000).  
In 2010, serious violence (rape/sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) accounted for about 50% of violence against persons with disabilities, up from 36% in 2009. This increase was driven primarily by a decline in simple assaults (down 41%) rather than an increase in serious violence. 
In 2010, the age-adjusted rate of serious violent victimization (rape/sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) was 16 per 1,000 persons with disabilities, compared to 5 per 1,000 for persons without disabilities. 
In 2010, among persons, age 12 to 15, Persons with disabilities had an unadjusted rate of violent victimization (61 per 1,000) that was at least twice that of persons without disabilities (23 per 1,000) 
In 2010, for females, the age-adjusted rate of violent crime was greater for those with disabilities than the rate against those without disabilities. The rate for females with disabilities the rate was 29 per 1,000, compared to 15 per 1,000 for females without disabilities 
Among persons with disabilities, females with disabilities (29 per 1,000) age-adjusted rate in 2010. 
Race and Hispanic origin 
In 2010, among whites, other races, and persons of two or more races, those with disabilities had higher age-adjusted violent victimization rates than those without disabilities: whites (26 per 1,000 compared to 15 per 1,000), persons of other races* (25 per 1,000 compared to 6 per 1,000), and persons of two or more races (94 per 1,000 compared to 22 per 1,000).4


 1Disability Justice (2017).  Sexual Abuse. CNN Investigations, 2017, March 2.

 2Davis, Leigh Ann (2009).  People with Intellectual Disability and Sexual Violence. The ARC, Prevent Child Abuse. 

 3World Health Organization (2012).  Disabilities and rehabilitation: Violence against adults and children with disabilitiesConvention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

 4Harrell, Erika (2012).  Crimes Against Persons With Disabilities (Engaging Communities, Empowering Victims), Washington, D.C. 

This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'America's Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations'  in Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.

The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:

  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.


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