Adults with autism face a greater risk of sexual victimization than their typically-developing peers, researchers say, and a lack of education could be part of the reason why.

In a survey of adults with and without autism, 78 percent of those on the spectrum reported at least one instance of sexual victimization compared to less than half of their typically-developing peers.

People with autism were more than twice as likely to say that had been raped and over three times as likely to report unwanted sexual contact, according to findings published in the September issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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For the study, researchers surveyed 95 adults with autism and 117 without, ages 19 to 43. Individuals were asked about unwanted sexual contact and their knowledge of contraception, reproductive health and other issues surrounding sexuality.

“Some may not know that the experience they had is actually classified as sexual victimization. But if you give them a specific situation, like someone touching you inappropriately after you said no, they may be more able to identify that it has happened to them,” said Stephanie Brown-Lavoie of York University in Toronto who worked on the study.

Those with autism indicated in the survey that they were less likely to learn about sex from their parents, peers or teachers, instead turning to television and going online for information.

What’s more, the study found that this group had less knowledge of sexually appropriate behaviors and safe practices, among other issues.

“Having low levels of sexual knowledge places individuals at risk above and beyond what can be accounted for by having an ASD alone,” researchers said in their findings. “Given the negative impact that sexual victimization can have on an individual’s mental health and well-being, research is needed to determine best practices for proactive prevention, through teaching of sexually related information to children, adolescents and adults with ASD.”

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