South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Increased vulnerability

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Why people with an intellectual disability may be considered to be at a higher risk, or have increased vulnerability to sexual assault compared with non-disabled people.

Stein & Brown (1996), suggest the following:

Communication difficulties:

  • Additional sensory impairments.
  • Vulnerability due to isolation.
  • Power differences i.e. very little money.
  • Lack of assertiveness.
  • Do not recognise sexual assault as being inappropriate (or a crime).
  • Need for intimate care.
  • Number of carers (people providing intimate care).
  • Instability of staff group.
  • Lack of ability to say "no".
  • Compliance used to doing what they are told.
  • Do not understand sexuality or sexual behaviour.
  • Risk taking behaviour for attention or affection.
  • Need for friends and affection.
  • Too trusting/little or no sense of danger.
  • They would not be believed if they disclosed (safer target for perpetrators).
  • Not alert to 'early warning signs'.

In discussing these factors it is important to reflect on the information covered previously on developmental and social consequences of intellectual disability. Some of these factors mentioned above may 'blame the victim', i.e. place the reason for the increased vulnerability on the individual instead of the system which limits opportunities for a person with an intellectual disability, thereby increasing their vulnerability. Instead of reading "lack of ability to say `no", you could read, "is not given opportunities to say `no", is punished for being assertive". Likewise, instead of reading "does not understand sexuality or sexual behaviour" you could read, "has not been given any opportunities to learn about human relations and sexuality, or not given any information."

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