Too often, people with disabilities who are the victims of abuse are unheard and unseen: their abuse goes unreported, and no one is held accountable. In 2018, this issue became more visible.
In January, NPR aired “Abused and Betrayed,” spotlighting the sexual assault of people with intellectual disabilities.Joseph Shapiro, “The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About,” NPR, January 8, 2018.
The series drew on a yearlong investigation into the unique vulnerabilities of this population, given the personal assistance many require for daily living.Shapiro, “The Sexual Assault Epidemic,” 2018.
People with intellectual disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted than people without disabilities, and they are more likely to be assaulted during the day and by someone they know.Shapiro, “The Sexual Assault Epidemic,” 2018 (analyzing Bureau of Justice Statistics, “National Crime Victimization Survey, Special Tabulation”).
NPR’s reporting also put into stark relief the frequent failure of law enforcement and prosecutors to act on accusations of sexual assault from people with intellectual disabilities: “These crimes go mostly unrecognized, unprosecuted and unpunished.”Shapiro, “The Sexual Assault Epidemic,” 2018.
Children with all types of disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse. In June, the Vera Institute of Justice and the Ms. Foundation released A Blueprint for Change: Toward a National Strategy to End Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities to address this issue.Sandra Harrell, A Blueprint for Change: Toward a National Strategy to End Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2018). The report—a culmination of literature reviews, stakeholder interviews, roundtable discussions, and an overall collective effort among advocates from the fields of child advocacy, victim services, disability and criminal justice—charts a course for ending such abuse. The blueprint offers practical suggestions to integrate the needs of children with disabilities into sexual abuse prevention efforts, intervention efforts, and first responses.Harrell, A Blueprint for Change, 2018.