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Examining Criminal Justice Responses to and Help-Seeking Patterns of Sexual Violence Survivors With Disabilities

NCJ Number
Date Published
Angela Browne, Ari Agha, Ashley Demyan, Elizabeth Beatriz
Publication Type
Grant Report
This study documented reports to the police by victims of sexual assault who were disabled, examined the criminal justice processing of these cases, and assessed these victims’ help-seeking from formal and informal sources.
The study defined sexual assault as “any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone’s will.” Disability was defined as “a physical, mental, or health impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having such impairment.” The overall study conclusion is that “current structures are not sufficient for potentially one of the highest risk adult populations for sexual assault and victimization in the United States.” Data are presented on the characteristics of such victims, including gender, age, race, and disability. The majority of disabled victims (60.5 percent) had a psychiatric disability, and 25 percent had an intellectual/developmental disability. The smallest percentage (15.6 percent) of victims had physical/sensory disabilities. Perpetrators characteristics were also identified, along with reported victim-perpetrator relationship. The highest percentage of cases (29.5 percent) involved perpetrators who were friends or acquaintances of the victim. The victims were exposed to sexual assaults across multiple settings, including places that would normally be considered safe. Fifty-three percent of the cases involved rape. In 13.6 percent of the cases, some legal action was taken; the largest single category of criminal justice action was “closed-no charge.” Reasons for this prosecutorial decision are examined. The most prevalent reason was insufficient evidence. The length of the cases is also noted. Regarding help-seeking, there was a reported lack of coordinated community services and supports for disabled survivors of sexual assault. Data sources included a special unit in a large metropolitan district attorney‘s office that handles sexual assaults of disabled victims, as well as community-based interviews with survivors and relevant community service providers. Extensive tables and figures and appended research tools
Date Created: September 25, 2016