It is well known that children with intellectual disabilities face a much higher risk for sexual abuse and sexual assault than those without disabilities. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse select victims who have disabilities because they view them as more vulnerable and less capable of reporting the abuse. According to a recent study, it now appears that this elevated risk for sexual victimization among children with intellectual disabilities extends to sex trafficking. In a review of 54 sex trafficking cases reported in Florida from 2007 to 2014, approximately one-third of the cases involved girls with intellectual disabilities. On average, these girls were 15 years old but their mental age equivalent was typically 7 to 10 years old. Sex traffickers targeted girls with intellectual disabilities because they were not capable of protecting themselves from – and some did not even comprehend – sexual exploitation. The exploited girls had very limited understanding of sexual or romantic relationships. Some victims could not distinguish between a boyfriend and a sex trafficker or buyer of sex. Other girls with less severe disabilities seemed to understand, albeit to a limited degree, that they were being sexually exploited but they did not know how to escape the exploitative situation nor did they grasp their right to say no. Compounding the girls’ vulnerability, sex traffickers used threats and violence to ensure victim compliance to sexual demands and to prevent victims from breaking away.

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