Clinical characteristics of individuals with intellectual disability who have experienced sexual abuse. An overview of the literature

Manon J. Smit*, Mia Scheffers, Claudia Emck, Jooske T. van Busschbach, Peter J. Beek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview article


Background: Sexual abuse in individuals with average IQ or above is associated with a wide range of behavioural, psychological and body-related characteristics. It is unknown whether individuals with intellectual disability (ID) and a history of sexual abuse suffer from similar clinical characteristics. Objective: The aim of the review is to provide an overview of the literature on the clinical characteristics of individuals with ID who have experienced sexual abuse. Method: PubMed, Embase, PsycInfo, CINAHL, Cochrane Library and Web of Sciences were searched for relevant publications using terms related to concepts of “intellectual disability” and “sexual abuse”. Two independent reviewers screened and selected articles for inclusion in the study, resulting in seven studies. Results: The studies mostly reported behavioural and psychological characteristics such as aggression, self-injury, or posttraumatic stress, anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with sexual abuse in individuals with ID. None mentioned body-related characteristics. Conclusions: Similar to individuals with average IQ or above, sexual abuse in individuals with ID is associated with a broad range of behavioural and psychological characteristics. Conduct disorders, self-injury, inappropriate sexualised talk and poor feelings of personal safety seem to be more indicative for the ID population. Anxiety, depression and PTSD are prevalent in individuals with and without ID who both have experienced sexual abuse. Whether individuals with ID experience body-related characteristics is unclear.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103513
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Early online date22 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019



  • Clinical characteristics
  • Consequences
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Sequelae
  • Sexual abuse

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