Certain segments of the population are more vulnerable to sexual abuse. These include prisoners (male and female), homeless women, disabled women, elderly women, and female sex workers (prostitutes).
Prisoners are in a powerless situation, and are often preyed upon by those in power. Many have suffered sexual abuse prior to incarceration. Male prisoners are frequently subject to sexual abuse by criminals, who use their power to terrify them. Females are more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of male prison guards, who, in some countries, have full access to their living quarters. Sexual assault of female prisoners can range from rape to trading sex for privileges. The latter is not consensual, and is an abuse of authority, although many women do not recognise it as such. In the United States, about 25% of female prisoners are sexually abused. If they become pregnant, they have very few maternal rights, and they may even be forced to have an abortion. All states in the US have now made sexual contact between guards and prisoners illegal.
Homeless women, driven to the streets by violent and traumatic lives, often suffer further abuse. They live chaotic and dependent lives, and frequently experience violent and repeated sexual abuse. They rarely report the abuse, partly because they are struggling just to survive. Not only do they lack a home, they have no social support or medical assistance, and endure ill health, addictions, and psychological problems. Some resort to prostitution as a means of survival. Poor women with no social support are also at increased risk of rape, as are women of colour who may suffer racist sexual assault.
Research also indicates that disabled people suffer a high level of sexual abuse. It seems that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. Growing old increases the likelihood of disability, and elderly people in general are vulnerable to sexual abuse. They are powerless and unable to defend themselves. Abusers take advantage of them and have sexual contact with them against their wishes, frequently using force. Apart from sexual acts, sexual abuse of the elderly includes making them observe sex acts, photographing them in sexually explicit ways, showing them pornographic material, spying on them in the bathroom or bedroom, and telling them erotic stories they do not want to hear. Internationally, there are few statistics for sexual abuse of the elderly, but it seems that they are least likely to suffer sexual abuse, as against the other types of abuse.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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