Can women with autism be more vulnerable to sexual abuse?

On Behalf of | Mar 17, 2023 | Other Sexual Abuse

People with autism can face challenges in social interactions and other aspects of life, including threatening situations. And according to a recent study, those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), particularly women, can face a significantly higher risk of sexual abuse.

Understanding how autism affects individuals

Autism is a mental disorder that can impact people’s social and behavioral functioning. Some of the main signs of autism include:

  • Challenges with communication/social interactions
  • Restrictive and/or repetitive behaviors
  • A strong dislike of change
  • Sensitivities to stimuli in their environment
  • Hyper-fixations on special interests or hobbies

While these are common traits of people with ASD, those with the condition don’t all look or act the same way. For some, their autism may be almost unnoticeable because they have a milder form of the disorder or they have learned to hide their autistic traits through social camouflaging, also known as masking. Others may be nonverbal and require around-the-clock care from a loved one or personal care attendant (PCA).

Why some women with ASD can face an increased risk

Researchers can’t seem to pinpoint a specific reason for this. They say having autism doesn’t directly correlate to an increased risk for sexual abuse. However, they also believe some women with ASD may have difficulties understanding when a perpetrator is trying to touch them inappropriately. Many with ASD can struggle with nonverbal social cues like body language or understanding other people’s intentions.

Others think that because some with ASD also face a high risk of substance abuse, it could lead them to get taken advantage of. At the same time, researchers say those findings are not directly related to people on the autism spectrum. Instead, they say anyone with a mental condition can be at higher risk of sexual abuse.

Neurodivergent survivors deserve to hold their abusers accountable

Many women with ASD can face discrimination due to their condition, especially when trying to report a crime like sexual abuse. If someone you love has ASD and is a survivor, they are not alone and there are ways they can seek help. Whether through an advocacy group or the assistance of compassionate and understanding legal counsel, women with autism can and deserve to have a voice when speaking up about sexual abuse.