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5 important aspects about sexual abuse of people with disabilities

According to the United Nations, girls and women with disabilities are ten times more likely to experience sexual violence than their able-bodied peers.

15% of the world's population lives with a disability. However, they remain invisible in government statistics. According to a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), disabled girls and women in this 15% are ten times more likely to experience violence than their able-bodied peers. Girls with cognitive disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.

To combat this, we must first learn about it. Here are five things you need to know about sexual violence against people with disabilities.

First, discrimination against disabled women starts at birth. Disabled girls are less likely to have health care or resources than disabled boys, and they are routinely denied access to education and vocational training, leaving them vulnerable to social exclusion and poverty as adults. Indeed, the employment rate of women with disabilities worldwide is 19.6%, compared to 52.8% for men with disabilities (UNFPA, 2018).

Moreover, girls and young women with disabilities are at greatest risk of sexual abuse. A study in Australia reveals that women with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than women without disabilities (UNFPA, 2018). Abusers know that they are on their own and that they run little risk of being caught or punished.

Moreover, violence against disabled girls can take many forms: bullying at school, physical violence from caregivers, forced sterilisation or aversion therapy. There is also a greater risk for these women to be trafficked for sex, as they may be considered "unwanted" (UNFPA, 2018).

Second, women with disabilities are denied the right to make their own decisions about their sexuality. They are more likely to have forced abortions and sterilisations and to contract STDs. Lack of autonomy and access to health services and sex education prevent them from having a healthy and protected sexuality.

Finally, myths and stereotypes about women with disabilities contribute to their vulnerability. These can lead families to hide or exclude their disabled child from school and their community, mainly in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia (UNFPA, 2018).