Experiences of physical and sexual violence as reported by autistic adults without intellectual disability: rate, gender patterns and clinical correlates

Published November 2021



Research has repeatedly demonstrated that people with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities, experience violence at higher rates compared to people without disabilities. There have been fewer studies of violence amongst autistic people with most focused on abuse and peer victimisation during childhood. Many of these studies include large numbers of children with intellectual disability making it difficult to infer whether autistic traits confer any increased risk for violence.


A cross-sectional survey design was employed to compare rates of reported childhood and recent physical and sexual violence, degree of traumatic impact, and tendency to confide in others amongst 245 autistic adults without intellectual disability and 49 non-autistic adults. We also examined whether autistic traits and emotion regulation were associated with experiences of reported violence.


A higher proportion of autistic adults reported experiencing sexual and physical violence during childhood. There was no difference in recent violence or traumatic impact, however autistic adults were more likely to report they had never confided in anyone about their experience/s. Autistic traits (but not emotion regulation difficulties) were a significant predictor of experiencing violence.


The findings provide further evidence that autistic people experience higher rates of physical and sexual violence and this cannot be attributed solely to the risk that is conferred by co-occurring intellectual disability. This information is important for policy makers and service providers so that steps can be taken to protect autistic people from exposure to violence however further research is needed to better understand the extent and nature of violence experienced by autistic people.

Gibbs, V., Hudson, J., Hwang, Y. I. (Jane), Arnold, S., Trollor, J., & Pellicano, E. (2021). Experiences of physical and sexual violence as reported by autistic adults without intellectual disability: Rate, gender patterns and clinical correlates. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 89, 101866. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2021.101866

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