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The Many Challenges Facing Sexual Assault Survivors With Disabilities

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2017
2 pages

This paper summarizes findings of a NIJ-funded study that examined criminal justice responses to and help-seeking patterns of survivors of violent sexual assaults who have disabilities.


The researchers collected data from a special unit in a large metropolitan district attorney's office that manages all cases that involve adult victims with disabilities, are deaf or hard of hearing, or are elderly. Researchers also conducted community-based interviews with survivors of sexual assault and service providers. The latter included the staff and volunteers who work with persons with disabilities who have been sexually assaulted. Overall, the study concluded that current structures are not adequate in meeting the needs of disabled survivors of sexual assault or processing their cases. During the study years (2008-2013) the study found that a majority (70.5 percent) of sexual assault cases referred to the special unit were closed with no charge. For half of these cases, investigators decided the case was not viable for prosecution due to lack of an identified perpetrator, lack of sufficient forensic evidence, and concerns about the victim's ability to withstand a stressful trial. No victim service providers interviewed for this study specialized in or knew of anyone knowledgeable about the nature and dynamics of the needs of disabled sexual assault survivors. In addition, the study determined that the social network of the disabled survivors consisted of other people with disabilities with low incomes, so many disabled survivors were reluctant to impose on them for needed support and services. Since this research was limited to one metropolitan area, additional research is recommended to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by these survivors and how they may differ according to the type of disability.

Date Published: July 1, 2017