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Disability and Abuse

Today, abuse and violence against people with disabilities occur at rates two to three times the general public, making them one of the most harmed groups in the country.

Common risk factors include the following; this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Dependence on others for personal care; lack of control (physically, psychologically, intellectually/developmentally) over the nature of the care.

  • Socialized to accept being touched by anyone, especially someone labeled "staff."

  • Difficulty in differentiating between appropriate and inappropriate actions and therefore uncertain as to what constitutes abuse.

  • Difficulty in understanding the concept of strangers.

  • Difficulty in accepting the fact that someone they know would harm them.

  • Disadvantaged by the level of sex education, if any.

  • Challenges regarding communication, including the difficulty of telling others about the abuse.

  • Lack of certified interpreters (e.g., American Sign Language interpreter, Certified Deaf Interpreter, Communication Access Realtime Translation provider).

  • Reliance on others for decision-making in their best interest.

  • Required, in a living or work situation, to be compliant; compliance is considered normal.

  • Ignored disclosures of abuse because they are made by a person with a disability (seen as less credible).

  • Failure to appreciate indicators of physical abuse, such as unexplained bruises being associated with the person's disability (e.g., history of self-injury).

  • Failure to appreciate secondary indicators of all types of abuse, such as impaired social interactions being associated with the person's disability (e.g., depression).

  • Failure to understand that persons with disabilities are harmed by abuse.

Non-traditional forms of abuse impacting people with disabilities can make it difficult to identify the abuse when it occurs. Examples of non-traditional expressions of abuse include:

  • Telling you that you “aren’t allowed” to have a pain flare-up.

  • Stealing or withholding Social Security Disability checks.

  • Telling you that you’re a bad parent or can’t be a parent because of your disability. Invalidating or minimizing a disability with claims that you’re “faking it.”

  • Using a disability in an effort to shame or humiliate you.

  • Refusing to help you complete necessary life tasks, including using the bathroom or dispensing medication. Withholding or threatening to withhold medication, or intentionally giving you incorrect doses by over-medicating or mixing medications in a dangerous or non-prescribed way.

  • Sexual activity if your disability makes you incapable of giving consent.

  • Withholding, damaging, or destroying assistive devices.

  • Preventing you from seeing a doctor.

  • Threatening to “out” your disability to others if it’s non-visible or carries a social stigma.

  • Harming or threatening to harm your service animal.

  • Using your disability to justify an abusive partner’s behavior.

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