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A survey of experiences of abuse

Olivia Hewitt (Clinical Psychologist, based at Psychology Service for People with a Learning Disability, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Reading, UK)

Tizard Learning Disability Review

ISSN: 1359-5474

Article publication date: 2 July 2014




People with a learning disability remain at increased risk of abuse and neglect due to a number of factors associated with learning disability per se and the culture in which they live. Understanding the prevalence of abuse within this population allows for appropriate planning and service development. Understanding more about the type and frequency of abuse (and the perpetrators) facilitates prevention of abuse. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


All clients allocated to a psychologist between 2009 and 2011 were included in this survey. The psychologist reported whether the client had experienced any abuse over their lifetime. Information regarding the type of abuse experienced, the relationship to the abuser, and the number of different episodes of abuse was recorded.


Of the 695 clients in the survey 25 per cent had experienced abuse. Of this 25 per cent, 46 per cent were men and 54 per cent were women. In all, 23 per cent of the group who had experienced abuse were referred to the service as a direct result of abuse, whilst 77 per cent were referred for another reason. The most prevalent types of abuse were emotional (27 per cent), sexual (24 per cent), physical (20 per cent), and neglect (12 per cent).


Prevalence rates within this study are broadly in line with the existing literature. However, differences included high levels of emotional abuse, and high frequency of abuse perpetrated by women, and by family members. Psychology services should routinely screen for abuse experiences and be alert to the possibility of abuse from female caregivers.



Hewitt, O. (2014), "A survey of experiences of abuse", Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 122-129.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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