Manhattanville Reid Castle In the Spring

Sexual Abuse of Students with Disabilities in Nation’s Schools is Likely Widespread
Thursday, 12 June 2014 09:54

Stephen J. Caldas, Ph. DStephen J. Caldas, an education professor at Manhattanville College, conducted the survey with Mary Lou Bensy, an adjunct professor of special education at Hofstra University. Findings Published by Researchers at Manhattanville College and Hofstra University

Purchase, NY  June 2, 2014 -- In the first nationwide survey of its kind, researchers at Manhattanville College and Hofstra University have found that among their large sample of abused  students with disabilities, fully 52% of all the reported incidences of sexual maltreatment and abuse were committed by school personnel, with 30% being committed specifically by teaching staff, and 22% committed by other school personnel. The perpetrators in the remaining 48 of the incidences of abuse were other students. Disturbingly, the researchers documented at least 3,000 (though the number may be up to five times higher), separate incidents of sexual maltreatment and abuse.  The research was published in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse.

The survey respondents included 352 caregivers, parents, guardians, professionals and advocates who responded from 41 states.  “This is the first survey data indicating just how widespread in-school sexual abuse likely is for students with autism, mental retardation and other disabilities in the United States,” said Stephen J. Caldas, Ph. D, a professor in the School of Education at Manhattanville who conducted the web-based survey in 2010 with Mary Lou Bensy, Ed.D., a former student of Dr. Caldas’ and now an adjunct professor at Hofstra University.  “We hope the survey helps break the silence about this very disturbing, prevalent problem in our schools. In the majority of the incidences of abuse, the student was sexually abused in a school location requiring staff supervision.”

Approximately 13 percent of all K-12 students in the U.S. have disabilities, and of those, about 15% receive their services in isolated (segregated) settings.  However, among the sample in the Caldas and Bensy study, more than 50% of the victims received their services in isolated settings, suggesting the increased risk of abuse to which this vulnerable population is exposed as a consequence of being educated apart from general education students. “While sexual abuse of students with disabilities in all schools is likely widespread, data from this study indicated that it is most prevalent in classrooms and schools which provide services only for students with disabilities,” said Dr. Bensy. 

The researchers identified two types of abuse: “non-contact” maltreatment (such as sexual comments, jokes, gestures; and photographs shown to victims) and “contact” abuse (rubbed up against a victim; pulled or pulled off clothing of a victim; forcibly kissing a victim; and forced oral and anal sex on a victim).  Over 14 percent of all victims were raped or forced to have oral sex, the most heinous forms of sexual abuse, and the younger the victim, the more frequently this occurred.

According to the article, more than two-thirds of the abused students experienced at least one form of “contact” sexual abuse, and fully 35 percent of all incidences of maltreatment occurred more than ten times.  The more significant a victim’s disability, the more severe the abuse perpetrated against him or her, the researchers found.

Other findings of the survey:

  • 75 percent of all incidences of sexual maltreatment occurred more than once.
  • 69 percent of victims suffered one or more of the severe types of sexual abuse.
  • Three of the top five most frequently occurring sexual offenses were of a more severe nature including: touch, rub or pinch victim; blocked way of victim; and pulled off or down clothing of victim. The most common type of maltreatment perpetrated against the student was verbal – comments, jokes, and gestures of a sexual nature.
  • In 25 percent of the incidences, the school took no action in response to the abuse.

A copy of the original article is attached.  It was published online in May and the hard copy will be available in June.

About Manhattanville College:

Manhattanville College ( is an independent, co-educational liberal arts institution dedicated to academic excellence and social and civic action. Manhattanville prepares students to be ethical and socially responsible leaders in a global community. Located just 30 minutes from New York City, Manhattanville serves 1,700 undergraduate students and 1,000 graduate students from more than 50 countries and 30 states. Founded in 1841, the College offers more than 50 undergraduate areas of study in the arts and sciences, and offers graduate programs in Education, Business, Creative Writing, as well as Continuing and Executive Education programs.