Rethinking sexual abuse, questions of consent, and intellectual disability

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13 Scopus citations


This article explores sexual abuse for individuals with intellectual disabilities using a case of a young woman with an intellectual disability who was sexually abused by her peer mentor. This article deconstructs the complex notions of competence as denying individuals' legal recognition of their capacity for sexual expression. The potential for sexual abuse is used as a disqualifier that demands compensation to counter the risk. This compensation takes the form of harm reduction and protectionism. Additionally, the article questions the usefulness of pity as a response to cases of sexual abuse. I argue that pity, as an emotional response, perpetuates unequal power dynamics between the individual who experiences abuse and those who describe, report upon, and support the individual. Most damaging perhaps is that, when individuals with intellectual disabilities, women especially, are seen as being vulnerable or at risk for sexual abuse, the perceived vulnerability acts as a mechanism to deny their sexual desire.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages13
JournalSexuality Research and Social Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive ableism
  • Competence
  • Consent
  • Intellectual disability
  • Legal and ethical issues of sexuality
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual agency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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