Kids with disabilities at risk for violence

August 9, 2012

Children with disabilities are 3 to 4 times more likely to suffer violence than children without disabilities, and children with mental and intellectual disabilities are at greatest risk for sexual abuse, new data show. More >>

Children with disabilities are 3 to 4 times more likely to suffer violence than children without disabilities, and children with mental and intellectual disabilities are at greatest risk for sexual abuse, new data show.

Researchers examined 17 studies that included 18,374 children with disabilities aged 2 to 18 years from the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Spain, and Israel. For all types of violence, children with disabilities were at significantly greater risk of violence than their peers without disabilities.

The pooled prevalence of physical violence against children with disabilities was 20%, with a high level of heterogeneity between studies. Compared with controls, children with a disability had 4 times the risk of being a victim of physical, sexual, or emotional violence and 4 times the risk of physical violence when assessed separately.

The pooled prevalence of sexual violence in the 15 studies that assessed this outcome was 14%. After adjusting for study heterogeneity, the pooled prevalence estimate for sexual violence was 8.9%. In the 6 studies that examined emotional abuse, the pooled prevalence was estimated at 18%.

Children with mental or intellectual disabilities were at higher risk of being a victim of violence than children with other disabilities. The prevalence of sexual violence was 15% in children with mental or intellectual disabilities and 11% for those with physical disabilities, again with substantial heterogeneity among studies.

The combined measure of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse was increased 4-fold in children with mental or intellectual disabilities compared with those without such disabilities.

The researchers advise that children with disabilities in all settings “should be viewed as a high-risk group in whom it is important to identify violence.”

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