Sexual Abuse Of Adults With Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities

Sexual abuse of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities is far more prevalent than most people imagine. “Those living with intellectual and developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually abused in their lifetimes than people without disabilities, according to U.S. Department of Justice data on sex crimes[.]” One study found that “one in three adults with intellectual disability suffers sexual abuse in adulthood.” (Tomsa, Gutu, et al., Prevalence of Sexual Abuse in Adults with Intellectual Disability: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(4):1980.).

Sexually Abused By Someone They Know And Trust

Adults with disabilities are likely to be sexually abused by someone they know and trust.  Often, such sexual abuse is perpetrated by a trusted caregiver, support staff, or other direct service provider.  Access to victims is increased in home-based care models, which have greatly expanded over the last several decades. While the goal of supporting adults with disabilities in the community (instead of in institutions) is commendable, in some instances organizations shirk their duty to properly monitor, support and protect adults with disabilities under the cover of increasing “independence.”  The decentralized nature of community-based services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities can result in robust supervision and safeguarding falling through the cracks.

Sexually Abused By A Caregiver

When a disabled adult is sexually abused by a caregiver, the perpetrator may later attempt to avoid consequences by portraying the sexual relationship as “consensual.” However, some states recognize that any sexual contact between a paid caregiver and a disabled recipient of services is sexual abuse.  For example, Oregon law expressly recognizes that sexual conduct between a paid caregiver and a developmentally-disabled adult served by that caregiver as “sexual abuse.”  See ORS 430.735 (1)(d) and (13)(a)(C) (defining “sexual abuse” to include: “Any sexual contact between . . . [a] paid caregiver and an adult served by the . . . caregiver.)

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Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

Support services organizations who become aware of warning signs of sexual abuse have a duty in many states to report suspected sexual abuse of an adult with a disability.  For example, Oregon imposes an obligation to require “mandatory reports and thorough and unbiased investigations of adults with mental illness or developmental disabilities who are allegedly abused.” ORS 430.737.  Individuals who have a statutory obligation to report suspected abuse of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities include employees of community mental health programs, community developmental disabilities programs, private agencies contracting with a public body to provide any community mental health service, personal support workers, home care workers, and “individual[s] paid by the Department of Human Services to provide a service identified in an individualized written service plan of an adult with a developmental disability.” ORS 430.735(11).  Individuals and organizations who fail to report reasonable suspicions of sexual abuse of disabled adults can face criminal and civil liability for failing to intervene and protect disabled adults.

The Impacts Of Sexual Abuse On Individuals

The impacts of sexual abuse on individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities can be profound.  Civil justice can help victims obtain the validation and extra support they need to heal, and also help increase awareness on the quiet epidemic of abuse in this vulnerable population.

If you or someone you love is an adult with an intellectual or developmental disability who has been sexually abused by a caregiver, support service worker, or treatment provider, the experienced team of trauma-informed advocates at Crew Janci LLP are here to help. We understand that the unique needs of abuse victims and their families often reach far beyond the legal realm.  We work to provide helpful resources, supports and referrals for our client’s other needs. Contact Crew Janci LLP today for a free confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our confidential contact form. We will treat you with dignity and respect.

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