Violence against Persons with Disabilities
What is Violence of Persons with Disabilities?
The victimization of persons with disabilities involves the abuse of an individual with a physical and/or mental disability. Victimization can include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological or emotional abuse, and neglect. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges such victimization as a serious and preventable public health problem.
Types of Abuse
- Physical Abuse is any act of violence or rough treatment that causes injury or discomfort, such as slapping, pushing or hitting. It may include over or under-medicating and the use of physical restraints.
- Emotional Abuse is any act which lowers a person’s dignity and self-worth. This may include regularly yelling at, criticizing, threatening, humiliating or isolating the elderly or disabled person.
- Sexual Abuse is any unwanted sexual act. This may include unwanted touching, kissing or fondling.
- Financial Abuse is any act involving the misuse of the elderly or disabled person’s money or property without their full knowledge and consent. This includes theft of money, pension cheques or property as well as misuse of a power of attorney.
- Neglect happens when a caregiver does not properly care for and attend to an elderly or disabled person who cannot fully look after him or herself. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional. It may include withholding food, personal hygiene care, health services, clothing, help or companionship. Neglect may also be self-neglect. This happens when a person refuses, delays or is unable to arrange for his or her own care and attention.
Current knowledge about victimization of persons with disabilities is based on a small number of studies, and little is know about victimization of important groups such as persons with traumatic brain injury.
Persons with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to become a victim of violence, abuse, or neglect than persons without disabilities.
Children with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused as children without disabilities.
Similar proportions of women with and without disabilities report having experienced episodes of physical violence, sexual violence, or emotional abuse. Women with disabilities, however, report greater numbers of perpetrators and longer time periods of individual episodes than women without disabilities.
Indicators of Abuse
Indicators of Physical Abuse
- fear of caregivers
- unexplained injuries
- delay in seeking treatment
- unusual patterns of bruises
- history of changing doctors
- scalp injuries
Indicators of Emotional Abuse
- low self-esteem
- appears nervous around caregiver
- avoids eye contact with caregiver
- fear of abandonment
Indicators of Sexual Abuse
- unusual fear of person
- stained, torn or bloody clothes
- pain and bruising
- change in sexual behaviour
- sexually transmitted diseases
Indicators of Financial Abuse
- unexplained missing items
- failure to pay bills
- inaccurate knowledge of finances
- suddenly changing a will
- going without affordable necessities
- unusual withdrawals from bank account
Indicators of Neglect
- wandering without supervision
- lack of heat/electricity
- unkempt appearance
- missing dentures, glasses, hearing aids
- skin conditions or pressure sores
- untreated medical problems
- alcohol or medication abuse
Most victims of abuse and neglect feel depressed and anxious. Although no one should jump to conclusions, do take all of these indicators seriously.
What Factors Make a Person with Disabilities Susceptible to Victimization?
Misperceptions about disability include “having a disability protects a person from victimization”; the risks to a person with disabilities are thought to be less than the risks to a person who has none.
Unemployment or underemployment of persons with disabilities restricts their income and limits their choices for caregivers, leading to an increased risk of physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, or neglect.
Lack of money often causes persons with disabilities to live in areas where crime rates are high and the potential for physical and sexual violence is greater than in wealthier neighborhoods.
Community resources for victims of physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, or neglect are usually designed to assist people without disabilities. Organizations that provide such resources do not routinely collaborate with organizations that assist persons with disabilities.
Frequently, health care and law enforcement professionals are uninformed about victimization of persons with disabilities. Thus, they may not have the specialized knowledge or skills to identify and assist these individuals when victimized.
Who Might Act Abusively?
An abusive person is usually someone the victim knows and trusts – someone with control and influence over the person with a disability. Abusers often isolate the victim from friends, neighbours and caring family members. However, an abuser might be anyone. This may include:
- a spouse/family member
- a friend
- any caretaker
- anyone working for a person
- staff in a facility
- a stranger
- a landlord
Some Reasons for Abuse and Neglect
In a Family
- a stressful time in the family
- poor family relations
- a cycle of violence exists in the family
- the abusive caregiver is trying to get even with a parent for past events
- the abusive caregiver has a drug or alcohol problem
- the abusive caregiver doesn’t know about the aging process
- the abusive caregiver doesn’t understand the disability
- the abusive caregiver has financial problems
- the abusive caregiver must care for other dependants
In a Nursing Home, Special Care Home, etc.
- lack of training
- over-worked staff
- stressful working environment
- lack of communication
What can I do if someone is abusing or neglecting me?
- Talk to family members or friends
- Talk to the abuser about your feelings
- Talk to your doctor, counsellor, minister or rabbi
- Find out about support services
- Call the Department of Victim Services
- Call the police
Why do victims seldom report abuse and neglect?
Some people don’t report abuse and neglect because they are ill, frail or have communication difficulties. Others think that:
- they will experience more abuse
- no one can help
- there is no proof
- they deserve it
- it is too shameful
- it is a family problem
- they should keep on coping
- they might lose their caregiver
- their caregiver will institutionalize them
Helping a Victim of Abuse and Neglect
- Talk to the person privately
- Listen to what the person is saying
- Try to understand what is happening
- Write down everything the person says
- Do not panic or make assumptions. This is a difficult time for the person.
- Explain the options available to the person
- Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each option or contact someone who can
- Encourage the person to choose the most appropriate option for his/her situation
- Let the person make his/her own decision
- If the person’s safety is at risk, tell the police or Victim Services
Help stop abuse and neglect. Report it!