Disabled victims more likely to have many sex attackers

Disabled victims of sexual violence are more likely to have multiple attackers than victims with no disabilities, according to research.

Female victims with a disability are also more vulnerable to attack as they age compared with females with no disability, whose vulnerability falls with age.

The research, conducted by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, said under-reporting of sexual violence was considered to be "a particular problem" for people with disabilities.

It said there was a "double vulnerability" in situations where the abuse is carried out by a carer or person in authority, on whom the victim is dependant.

In an online survey carried out as part of the research, about half of victims of sexual violence said the top three barriers to disclosing the crime were: Fear of being blamed for the violence, fear of not being believed, and an ongoing fear of the abuser.

The research, which will be discussed today at a summer school on disability in National University of Ireland, Galway, examined the RCNI database over a three-year period, between 2008 and 2010.

Identifying 184 people with disabilities who attended 14 rape crisis centres across the country, it found:

* 47% had a learning disability (which it said was in line with international research indicating this group was more vulnerable);

* 37% had a mobility impairment;

* 9% were deaf or had a hearing impairment;

* 5% were visually impaired or blind;

* 2% were wheelchair users.

The research, Sexual Violence Against People with Disabilities, found that survivors with disabilities had a higher incidence of sexual violence as adults compared to survivors with no disability (42% compared to 30%).

Female survivors with disabilities disclosed an increase in vulnerability as they age compared to female survivors generally (48% compared to 33%).

Victims with disabilities were subjected to a greater number of multiple incid-ents of sexual violence than those with no disabilities (39% compared to 25%).

It found that 84% of perpetrators were known to victims, similar to those with no disability.

The report called for training for individuals, carers, parents, and staff across the disability sector in how to respond to disclosures as well as greater disability awareness in agencies such as the gardaí and sexual assault treatment units.

RCNI executive director Fiona Neary said: "We know that someone with a disability is more vulnerable to exploitation and sexual abuse. It is therefore quite shocking to find that so few research participants had ever been asked if they had ever had an experience of sexual violence.

"It is also clear from the comments by the research participants who had experienced abuse that victim-blaming attitudes continue to silence victims of sexual violence."

* For more, go to www.rcni.ie. National 24-hour helpline: 1800 778 888.