Autistic Adults as Victims of Violence


Full paper:…/unsworks…/UNSWORKS

Nothing about us without us
Who: Gibbs and colleagues
Journal: Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Published: 2021
Title: Experiences of physical and sexual violence as reported by autistic adults without intellectual disability: Rate, gender patterns and clinical correlates

Autistic Adults & Physical and Sexual Violence

TW: mention of violence


Study background:

Studies have found that disabled people are at significantly greater risk of being a victim of violence than non-disabled people.

Autistic children are at a higher risk of peer victimisation, and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. They are also at a higher risk of poly-victimization; they experience multiple forms of violence across different events.

However, these studies utilised reports from parents and not the children themselves.

One study of adulthood sexual violence found that 78% of autistic women had been a victim of unwanted sexual advances or behaviour, compared to 57% of non-autistic women.


The transactional model of the relationship between trauma, traumatic stress, and autism suggests that not only are autistic people more likely to be exposed to trauma, but they also experience and process trauma differently to non-autistic people, and have heightened responses to trauma.

The study:

They collected the experiences of 245 autistic adults (208 with a diagnosis and 37 self-identified) and 49 non-autistic adults.

They answered questionnaires about their experiences of violence in childhood, and in the last two years. They also reported their autistic traits, and their emotional regulation strategies.


The results:

Childhood violence:
Autistic: 49.4%
Non-autistic: 22.4%

Adulthood violence:
In the last two years, similar levels of violence had been experienced by autistic (10.6%) and non-autistic people (6.1%), as well as experiencing similar degrees of trauma from the events.


Sexual violence:

Autistic women: 46.5%
Autistic men: 17.5%
Non-autistic women: 20%
Non-autistic men: <5 in

[21 non-binary autistic individuals were not included in this analysis]


Physical violence:

Autistic women: 42.9%
Autistic men: 28.6%
Non-autistic women: 12.8%
Non-autistic men: <5 in

[21 non-binary autistic individuals were not included in this analysis]


Of those who had been a victim of violence, over half of the autistic people had never told anybody about it.

Autistic: 53.9%
Non-autistic: 18.2%

The average age of participants was 43 years old, and they were only asked about childhood violence and violence within the past 2 years, so some incidences will have been missed.


Autistic people are more likely to be a victim of violence in their lifetimes. They are also less likely to tell the police, the criminal justice system, friends, family, or mental health professionals.

Those who had poorer interpersonal skills were at a higher risk for being the victim of violence. They might have more difficulty “reading” other people’s intentions, making them easier targets for potential offenders.

Those who had experienced “interventions” to address “social deficits” may be more likely to tolerate exploitative, aggressive, & abusive behaviours.

Higher rates of violence, and less access to formal and informal support may lead to the increased levels of trauma-related symptoms reported by autistic people.

It is important that the focus for change is on structural & systemic factors which contribute to violence, rather than placing the onus of change on the victims themselves.

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