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Responding to Signs of Sexual Abuse

A phone to report sexual abuse

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Service providers have duties and responsibilities to protect individuals with disabilities from harm, including reporting suspected sexual abuse. Unfortunately, sexual abuse is under-reported. This means that incidents of suspected sexual abuse are not reported to the proper authorities as they should.

There are different reasons why suspected sexual abuse may not be reported. These include the following:

  • The individual may not be able to clearly express what occurred (or is occurring) in ways that others understand.
  • The individual may not realize that he or she has been victimized.
  • The consumer may be afraid to reveal what has occurred.
  • Possible signs of sexual abuse are not recognized or are not fully considered by staff and others close to the individual.
  • The individual’s allegations may be dismissed as fabrications or untruthful reports.
  • Persons aware of the suspected sexual abuse may be reluctant to get involved and thus remain silent.
  • Staff may fear reprisal if a co-worker is the suspected perpetrator.
  • Staff may be uncertain if the actions described or observed constitute sexual abuse.
  • Staff may also be uncertain about what to do – how the suspected sexual abuse should be reported and to whom.

When suspected sexual abuse is not reported, the individual may continue to be victimized and suffer the consequences repeatedly. Needed services and supports to assist the consumer in response to such an event cannot then be provided.

Service providers must be prepared to respond to incidents of suspected sexual abuse. Listed below are the basic steps that service providers should take:

  • Be aware of the possible signs of sexual abuse. 
  • Know ahead of time where to go in your community. Timing of response is critical in these situations.
  • Take action if an individual communicates that he or she has been abused. Do not ignore or dismiss any such reports regardless of whether or not they appear plausible. The proper authorities will determine what occurred.
  • Immediately protect the individual from continued contact with the alleged perpetrator. If the alleged perpetrator is a staff member, the staff member should be removed from a position of direct contact with consumers. If the alleged perpetrator is another individual, necessary precautions, including separating the affected individual, should be taken to protect others from harm.
  • If sexual assault (including rape or attempted rape) is suspected, preserve any evidence at the scene of the incident for disposition by law enforcement.
  • If sexual assault is suspected, seek immediate medical evaluation and treatment for the individual from a local hospital emergency room or sexual assault center in your community. The person should not bathe or brush teeth beforehand. Know ahead of time where to go in your community.
  • For a list of sexual assault/rape crisis centers in your city or county contact:
  • Immediately notify local law enforcement and Child Protective Services or Adult Protective Services.
  • According to your provider policies, ensure that the family or conservator is notified of the incident.
  • Report the suspected sexual abuse to the Regional Center within 24 hours.
  • Do the right thing – if you aren’t sure something should be reported, report it anyway.
  • Provide comfort and support to the individual. Avoid questioning the individual about details of what occurred – trained investigators are in the best position to do this.
  • Work with the individual’s service coordinator to arrange support services such as counseling and therapy.
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Last updated on Mon, 06/14/2010 - 15:59