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  • S.E.S.A.M.E.

SESAME Board of Advisors Member, Mary Lou Bensy's study published in Journal of Child Sexual Abu


This study presents results from the first nationwide survey of students with disabilities who were sexually maltreated in American schools. The web survey results, which were mostly provided by caregivers, parents/guardians and professional advocates, illuminate the types of sexual maltreatment committed, the characteristics of the victims and the abusers, where in the school setting the maltreatment occurred, the manner in which the maltreatment was reported, and the school’s response to the maltreatment. More than two-thirds of the maltreated students experienced at least one form of contact sexual abuse, and fully 35% of all incidences of maltreatment occurred more than ten times. The majority of the incidences of maltreatment were committed by school personnel. The web-based survey was widely distributed electronically over an 8.5 month period in 2010. A total of 352 survey responses were collected from respondents in 41 U.S. states.

Survey findings include:

  • The most frequently identified abuser was “another student” (48% of all incidences of abuse)

  • The second most frequently identified abuser was a member of the teaching staff (30% of all incidences of abuse)

  • 75% of all incidences of sexual maltreatment occurred more than once, and in 35% of all incidences the maltreatment occurred more than 10 times

  • Our victims suffered a minimum of 2,908 separate instances of sexual maltreatment (the actual number is probably 3 to 5 five times higher)

  • In the majority of the incidences of abuse, the student was sexually maltreated/abused in a school location requiring staff supervision

  • Students with more severe levels of disability were significantly overrepresented in the sample (suggests that the more vulnerable the student, the greater the likelihood of abuse)

  • Those students with more significant levels of disability experienced more severe maltreatment and abuse

  • 3 of the top 5 most frequently occurring sexual offenses were of a more abusive nature

  • 69% of the victims suffered one or more of the invasive types of sexual abuse

  • 50% of sample students received educational services in segregated and more isolated school settings, a likely factor in their exposure to increased maltreatment (suggests that the isolated nature of the school environment actually increased the victim’s risk of being abused)

  • In 25% of abused victims, the school took no action in response to the maltreatment/abuse

  • The younger the victim, the more frequently they were raped or forced to have oral sex

  • The younger the student, the more likely they suffered the more severe forms of sexual abuse

  • Findings from our study suggest that students with disabilities are at a markedly increased risk of abuse by adult personnel than are students in the general school populations.

  • More than half of the victims were between 6 and 13 years old.

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