South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Incidence and prevalence

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Accurate figures and information on the incidence and prevalence of sexual assault of people with an intellectual disability are difficult to obtain. Turk & Brown (1993) in their report of the University of Kent study of 1989 - 1990 discuss the difficulties with previous incidence studies. Many of these did not distinguish between single incidents and ongoing incidents. They also suggest that, the way sexual assault is defined affects whether cases are identified and that the reported cases are 'the tip of the iceberg'. Their study which surveyed the incidence of new cases of sexual assault of people with an intellectual disability which occurred within these two years in the South Thames Regional Health Authority, found 119 new cases.

A number of key studies have made similar findings:

  • That people with an intellectual disability are at a high risk of sexual assault.
  • That the majority of perpetrators are known and trusted by the person with an intellectual disability.
  • That both men and women with an intellectual disability are victims of sexual assault but the reported cases suggest a higher percentage of women.
  • Frequency of reporting is low.

Figures collated from the Family Planning Victoria 1997 Sexual Assault Project found that in a 12 month period people with an intellectual disability accounted for approximately 0.5% of registrations in three CASA sites surveyed. This is a very significant number given that only 1 % of Victorians are thought to have an intellectual disability and that there is significant under reporting of sexual assault.

It would seem from the various reports of incidence and prevalence that people with an intellectual disability are over represented as a group in reports of sexual assault. (See the literature review Recognising and Responding to Sexual Assault of People with an intellectual Disability: FPV project 1997, for a more detailed discussion of incidence and prevalence.)

Education for people with an intellectual disability on sexuality, sexual assault and rights is needed to ensure they have some knowledge to enable them to identify abusive incidents and to report incidents of sexual assault. Training and support for carers of people with an intellectual disability is also important to ensure those people can recognise signs of sexual assault and know what to do to assist the person with an intellectual disability to disclose, report and seek help. A person with an intellectual disability can only disclose if:

  • they know what sexual assault is;
  • they have someone to tell if they are sexually assaulted;
  • that person believes them and knows how to support them.

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