MSU Study Examines Sexual Violence Committed Against College Women With Disabilities

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College women with mental health or behavioral disabilities are experiencing sexual violence and intimate partner violence that involves intimidation, name-calling and humiliation that specifically targets their disability, according to a new study.

Michigan State University researchers examined patterns of sexual violence and intimate partner violence aimed at female college students with a mental health-related or behavioral disability and the health effects of this abuse.

The researchers, reporting in the Journal of Women’s Health, show how sexual violence and disability-specific abuse can worsen mental health outcomes for women with a disability. These negative health effects were typically accompanied by other adverse behavioral, physical and academic outcomes.

Specific findings include:

  • Women reported sexual violence within “hook-up settings” and/or recurring sexual violence with a long-term partner. For some women, sexual violence spanned multiple abusive partners. Hook-ups included one-night stands or sexual relationships over a one- or two-week period.
  • Women in chronically abusive relationships tended to suffer disability-specific abuse (e.g., name-calling and humiliation that specifically targeted their disability), social isolation, threats/intimidation and technology-related abuse.
  • Women experiencing sexual violence in hook-up settings said alcohol was a common facilitator, with some abusers using their disability to manipulate a sexual connection.
  • Women victimized by sexual violence suffered poor mental health consequences, such as suicidal ideation/attempts, depression, anxiety, PTSD and stress.
  • Women also suffered adverse behavioral (e.g., becoming less social, avoiding campus areas such as cafeterias), physical (e.g., problems sleeping, bruising, pregnancy concerns, STDs) and academic outcomes (e.g., skipping and/or dropping class, grades suffering).

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