Hesperian Health Guides

Sexual abuse

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 14: Abuse, violence, and self-defense > Sexual abuse


Girls are especially at risk for sexual abuse because they are smaller, weaker, and less aware of the social rules and practices around sex in their communities. Girls may be abused by a father or mother, an uncle or other relative, or by a brother or by other children. If a girl tells someone about abuse in the family, the family often protects the abuser—and blames the girl. But it is never right to blame the person who has been abused, especially not a child.

Girls and women with disabilities are at even greater risk for being abused—especially if they are weakened by their disabilities, have difficulty communicating, or are not fully accepted by their communities. This can make the abusers believe women with disabilities are easy targets and their communities will not care about what happens to them.

A disabled woman can be sexually abused by her husband, by other family members, by someone who takes care of her, or by a stranger. Most often, a woman is raped by a man she knows. And because a disabled woman’s family may not have allowed her to be in social situations where she could make friends and learn about sexual relationships between men and women, she may think she has no other choice but to accept abuse. She may even think that no one but the abuser will be attracted to her.

There are many ways sexual abuse happens, but only sometimes do people think of them as sexual assault or rape. Sexual abuse means any sexual contact a woman does not want. A woman or girl is sexually abused when she:

  • has been raped or forced to have sex she does not want.
  • is touched on her breasts or genitals, or on other parts of her body, without her permission.
  • is forced to have sex with someone so she can keep her job, or with a teacher so she can get a passing grade.
  • is forced to have sex in exchange for care.
  • has sex in exchange for money or food, because she has no other way to support herself.
  • has to pose for sex pictures (pornography) in exchange for money, food, or care.
  • has to hear or watch sex between other people.
  • is teased or talked to sexually, or has to listen to jokes or sexual language that make her uncomfortable.
  • is made to look at pornography.

Sexual abuse can happen to any girl or woman. It is never her fault.