If those providing services to persons with disabilities are to be successful in identifying, and intervening in situations that place persons with disabilities at risk, they must have an understanding of what makes individuals with disabilities more vulnerable to becoming victims of crime, abuse and neglect. The following list of common risk factors contributes to the abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities. This list can be used as a guide to help staff and agencies intervene more quickly and effectively:
  • May have restricted social environments

  • May feel powerless

  • May depend upon touch for personal care and may not always be able to control the nature of the care or touch physically, cognitively or verbally

  • May be socialized to accept being touched by anyone, especially someone called "staff"

  • May be unable to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate actions, and therefore, are uncertain as to what constitutes abuse

  • May not understand the concept of strangers

  • May not be able to conceive of the fact that someone they know would harm them

  • May not have received sex education

  • May be particularly disadvantaged by communication barriers, and unable to tell others about the abuse

  • May rely on others for decision-making in their "best interest"

  • May live or work in a situation where compliant behavior is required, and considered "normal"

  • Disclosures of abuse are more likely to be ignored when made by individuals with disabilities (seen as less "credible")

  • Primary indicators of physical abuse, such as unexplained bruises, may be attributed to the disability itself (e.g. history of self-injurious behaviors)

  • Secondary indicators of all types of abuse, such as impaired social interactions, may be attributed to the disability itself (e.g. symptoms of withdrawal or depression)

  • Some people believe that persons with disabilities are not as harmed by abuse (e.g. do not feel pain in the same way)

  • Some individuals with disabilities are highly dependent on their caregivers for daily care. This may make them reluctant to report abuse due to fear of retribution (e.g. more abuse, threat of institutionalization)

  • Some family members or guardians of individuals with disabilities may have a false sense of security about the safety of their loved ones. They believe they are safer in "supervised" settings