Sexual Assault and Students With Disabilities: How to Respond

Sexual Assault and Students With Disabilities: How to Respond

Thomas C. Gibbon (Shippensburg University, USA), Nicole Taylor (Shippensburg University, USA), Elyse R. Scheckler (Shippensburg University, USA), Michelle Stagmer (Shippensburg University, USA) and David F. Bateman (Shippensburg University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7036-3.ch033
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This chapter reviews the special vulnerabilities of students with disabilities to sexual assault. The relationship between the characteristics of specific disability categories and the delivery system that is special education is explored. Historical and philosophical trends such as institutionalization, forced sterilization, and the Eugenics Movement that created the environment for sexual abuse of students with disabilities are discussed. The authors provide a case study about a recent sexual assault and a discussion of the Willowbrook institution where well documented sexual abuse of people with disabilities took place. Age and disability specific sex education, teacher training, and ongoing monitoring are recommended to improve the safety of some of our most vulnerable students.
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All Too Common

Statistical reports released by the U.S Department of Justice (Harrell, 2014) found 32,400 to 82,100 cases of rape and/or sexual assault of persons with disabilities were reported each year from 2008-2012. A closer look at these statistics shows that the number of reports more than doubled from 2010 to 2011 and the numbers continued to exceed 80,000 reports starting in 2012 (Harrell, 2014). The 2012 National Survey on Assault of People with Disabilities found 90% of individuals with disabilities who reported some form of assault relayed the assault occurred on multiple occasions. Furthermore, 57% of these individuals who reported assault also reported the assault occurred on more than 20 occasions (Baladerian, Coleman, & Stream, 2013).

In January 2014, The White House Council on Women and Girls recognized the increased risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault for individuals with disabilities. This report cites sources that indicate individuals with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual assault and women with severe disabilities are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted, when compared to their non-disabled peers (White House Council on Women and Girls (2014). Krohn (2014) recognized the variability in the increased risk across disability groups, age, and gender of individuals with disabilities. Studies have overwhelmingly found women and girls with disabilities have some of the highest percentages of sexual assault victimization, even going as far as stating that “it is believed that the majority of disabled women and girls experience sexual assault at some point in their lives” (p. 4). This strong statement is based on statistical support found in reports made by the U.S. Department of Justice: 68% to 83% of women, 39% to 83% of girls, and 16% to 32% of boys with developmental disabilities experience sexual assault in their lifetime (Krohn, 2014).

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