Most Vulnerable Populations to Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can affect individuals across virtually all demographics. However, certain populations are considered more vulnerable due to their age, disability and other factors. Preventing and effectively addressing sexual abuse is only possible when vulnerable populations are recognized and protected.

Children and Minors

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, around 28 percent of youth ages 14 to 17 have been sexually abused. Adolescents under the age of 18 are vulnerable to sexual abuse for several reasons. Young children may not yet have the language ability to explain what is happening to them or to report sexual abuse. Children and adolescents may not understand sexual abuse or that they are being victimized

Children are also more likely to succumb to grooming tactics often used by sexual predators, such as an adult in a position of power telling the child that what is happening is normal or consensual. Finally, predators often have access to children alone due to positions of authority or trust. Common perpetrators of child sexual abuse include caregivers, teachers, clergy members and sports coaches.

The Elderly

The elderly are also classified as a vulnerable population in terms of sexual abuse risk. Due to their dependence on others, senior citizens in homes are at risk of being targeted and victimized by sexual predators. It is estimated that at least 10 percent of elderly individuals ages 65 and older will experience some form of elder abuse in any given year.

In a nursing home setting, workers and caregivers may take advantage of an elderly individual who has physical or cognitive disabilities. Sexual violence against the elderly can also be coupled with other forms of abuse, including physical abuse and financial exploitation, as a way to silence the victim.

People With Disabilities

Individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities are at a higher risk of being sexually abused due to the unique aspects of their conditions. Abusers may target these individuals due to a victim’s inability to understand the nature of the assault, physically defend themselves or tell others about the attack. Furthermore, sexual abuse and exploitation by staff members can occur in facilities dedicated to caring for individuals with disabilities, since the victims are dependent on their caregivers.


Immigrants to the United States who are held in detention facilities and refugee camps are at a higher risk of suffering from sexual abuse, assault and exploitation, including sex trafficking. These populations can face increased vulnerability due to language barriers, a lack of knowledge regarding their legal rights and fears of deportation. Perpetrators can exploit these vulnerabilities to make it even more difficult for victims to report abuse.

Members of the LGBTQ+ Community

Members of the LGBTQ+ community statistically experience sexual harassment, assault, abuse and violence more than other populations. This is caused by risk factors such as homophobia, transphobia, stereotypes and institutional discrimination against this population. One study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that 61 percent of bisexual women and 44 percent of lesbian women reported intimate partner violence compared to 35 percent of straight women.

Foster Children

Foster children and other individuals in institutional settings, such as group homes, prisons and mental health facilities, face a heightened vulnerability to sex crimes. Factors that contribute to this include inadequate protections for these populations, an imbalance of power between the abuser and the abused, and a lack of supervision or oversight at these facilities.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, contact the attorneys at DRZ Law for a free and confidential consultation about your legal rights.

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