For 10 years Martin Pistorius was trapped in his own body, aware of what was going on, but unable to speak or move. His family and health care workers believed he was in a vegetative coma and had zero intelligence. While trapped in his body, he suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse while in nursing homes. What makes Martin’s story unusual is not that he was sexually abused, but that he eventually regained his ability to communicate and could stop the abuse.
Studies confirm that disabled people are sexually abused at a higher rate than the general population. People with intellectual disabilities, such as Downs’s syndrome and communication disorders, such as autism, are far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse. In nursing homes, sexual abuse is often perpetrated by either staff or other residents. Abuse can take the form of sexual contact without consent or pressure to engage in sexual activity.
When a disabled person is not able to communicate that they have been sexually abused, there are signs that may indicate that sexual abuse has recently occurred. Some signs might include:
- bruises in the genital area
- sexually transmitted diseases
- signs of physical abuse
- unexplained pregnancy
- torn clothing
If you suspect that your loved one may have been sexually abused:
- Take them to the emergency room as soon as possible after the assault.
- If they are an incapacitated or dependent adult, contact the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
- Do not touch or disturb the scene of the assault.
- Do not leave them alone with the suspected abuser.