Sexual assault against people with disabilities is a critical and neglected issue. Although empirical evidence is extremely limited, several studies based on population or convenience samples of sexual assault among people with disabilities report lifetime rates as high as 53 percent. However, few studies have examined criminal justice responses to and help-seeking patterns of diverse sexual assault survivors with disabilities (for example, gender, age, race and ethnicity, and disability type) using rigorous research methods and methods designed for this population. To address this gap, we are conducting a National Institute of Justice-funded study in partnership with a large district attorney’s office and a community-based, non-residential program providing services to people with disabilities, with support from a local rape crisis center.
This study will examine criminal justice outcomes and help-seeking experiences of sexual assault survivors with disabilities. To our knowledge, this is the first study in the United States to examine prosecutorial data for this very important population and among the first to conduct qualitative interviews on help-seeking patterns among sexual violence survivors with disabilities. The study’s objectives include:
- Describing criminal justice reporting of sexual assault victimization among persons with disabilities (for example, number of reports over time, characteristics of survivors, type and frequency of victimizations) using district attorney’s administrative data over a 10-year period;
- Assessing how cases of sexual assault survivors with disabilities proceed through the criminal court system compared to those of sexual assault survivors without disabilities —including consideration of factors influencing case outcomes at each decision point—based on administrative data, supplemental case file reviews, and prosecutor interviews; and
- Describing experiences of sexual assault survivors with disabilities seeking help from formal and informal sources in the community. This will include community-based interviews exploring factors that influence how survivors seek help, their experiences in reporting victimization, and outcomes of that reporting.
Why This Work Matters
This is one of the first studies in the United States to examine prosecutorial data for this population and among the first to conduct qualitative interviews on help-seeking patterns among sexual violence survivors with disabilities. The study will significantly advance existing knowledge and address critical gaps in our understanding of justice system responses to victims with disabilities. Results of the study will promote informed discourse and best practice choices in this very important area and will give a voice to survivors whose experiences so often remain hidden.