News from LIFE, Inc.

disabled-3People with Disabilities Vulnerable to Abuse

Abuse is a serious threat to many individuals with disabilities. Research in the area of abuse against persons with disabilities is alarming as researchers document that individuals with disabilities are more likely to be abused or assaulted than their peers without disabilities.

One study estimates that 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities experienced sexual abuse. Other research documents that between 50-99% of persons with disabilities who experience abuse or violence are violated by someone they know (i.e., family member, bus driver, personal care attendant).

Knowledge is the key to prevention – abuse prevention education can empower people to identify, prevent, and stop violence, and to stay safe. The following vulnerability factors are true for many individuals with disabilities:

  • Persons with physical disabilities may depend on others to meet some of their basic needs. Personal care providers may be involved in the most intimate and personal parts of the individual’s life, which can increase the opportunity for abusive acts.
  • Persons with disabilities may be less likely to defend themselves or to escape violent situations. Some withdisabilities may have limited vocabulary or communication skills that can pose barriers to disclosing abuse or assault. A perpetrator may also believe that he/she can get away with abusive behavior since the individual would not be able to report. Some persons with disabilities use a communication board or electronic device to communicate. Many of these devices do not include vocabulary for reporting abuse or other victimization.
  • Individuals with disabilities are quite often taught to be compliant, obedient, and passive to the wishes of others. Persons with disabilities may not be taught about boundaries or that they have the right to say no to painful or unwanted touches.
  • Many people with disabilities grow up without receiving information and education about sexuality, abuse prevention, and personal safety strategies. Public classes for self-defense and abuse prevention are generally not adapted to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
  • A lack of accessible transportation or accessible housing can prevent an individual with disabilities from leaving an abusive situation. Many communities lack appropriate services, such as an accessible domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center, that support individuals with disabilities to live free from abuse and/or violence.
  • Domestic violence agencies may not recognize caregiver abuse as part of the definition of family violence, thus impeding some persons with disabilities from receiving necessary crisis services.
  • People with disabilities have traditionally been oppressed through their segregation from the community and placement into congregate care residential facilities (i.e., group homes, state schools, nursing homes, foster homes). Persons who live in residential facilities or institutions are more likely to experience repeated victimizations from multiple perpetrators. Residents with disabilities may lack access to telephones, family, social support, police, and advocates. Within an institutional setting, there are often power imbalances between service providers and recipients of care. This power imbalance increases the risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence against people with disabilities, and in some circumstances, can lead to death. Unfortunately, many persons who might choose to live and participate in the community still face barriers and remain socially isolated.Thanks for permission of use from:

    Wendie H. Abramson, LMSW
    Director of Disability Services ASAP (A Safety Awareness Program)
    P. O. Box 19454
    Austin, Texas 78760
    (512) 356-1599
    (512) 482-0691 (TTY)
    (512) 385-0662 (fax)

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