Prevalence of Sexual Abuse in Adults with Intellectual Disability: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Feb 18;18(4):1980. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18041980.


This study presents the results of a systematic review on the prevalence of sexual abuse experienced in adulthood by individuals with intellectual disability. An electronic and manual search of academic journals was performed on four databases via EBSCO Host: Academic Search Complete, PsycINFO, Medline, CINAHL Full-Text. In addition, PubMed, ProQuest, and Web of Science (core collection) were searched. After an initial selection of 1037 documents, 25 articles remained for quantitative synthesis. The combined prevalence of sexual abuse in adults with intellectual disability was 32.9% (95% CI: 22.7-43.0) and sensitivity analysis revealed that the prevalence was not outweighed by a single study. Overall, the United Kingdom had the highest prevalence (r = 34.1%), and the USA had the lowest (r = 15.2%). The overall prevalence in females was lower (r = 31.8%) than that in males (r = 39.9%). Subgroup analyses revealed that prevalence of sexual abuse was higher in institutionalized individuals. The most prevalent profile of abuser is of a peer with intellectual disability. Prevalence increases from mild to severe levels of intellectual disability and decreases in profound levels. It is also more prevalent when the informant is the individual with intellectual disability than when someone else reports abuse. In sum, one in three adults with intellectual disability suffers sexual abuse in adulthood. Special attention should be paid for early detection and intervention in high risk situations.

Keywords: adults; intellectual disability; meta-analysis; prevalence; sexual abuse; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability* / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Offenses*
  • United Kingdom