People with disabilities at higher risk of sexual violence, study shows

People with disabilities are at higher risk of sexual violence, according to a study by Ghent University. The survey found that 35 per cent of people with disabilities had experienced sexual abuse, compared to 27 per cent of people without disabilities. 

The survey was conducted among 459 people aged between 16 and 69 and 485 people over 70. It found that 16 per cent of people with disabilities had been victims of rape or attempted rape, compared with 9 per cent of people without disabilities. 

Women with disabilities appear to be most affected. Almost one in two women with disabilities report having experienced physical sexual abuse. Among men with disabilities, one in four reports having experienced physical sexual abuse.

Only in the case of sexual violence without physical contact do people with disabilities report lower rates than people without disabilities.

Vulnerable social position

The university's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences conducted the study on behalf of the Flemish minister for Equal Opportunities, Bart Somers. 

The higher prevalence of sexual violence can be explained by the vulnerable and possibly dependent social position of people with disabilities, according to the researchers. 

People with disabilities are also more likely to live in poverty, face prejudice and have poorer health, which are all risk factors for sexual victimisation.

While people with disabilities are more likely to seek formal help after experiencing sexual violence than people without disabilities, the rate is still only 15 per cent.

Somers said the findings were "very confronting figures that we as a society cannot accept". He wants to encourage victims to come forward, give more support to aid organisations and focus more on prevention.


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