Persons with disabilities are some of our most vulnerable citizens. The vulnerability of a person with a disability is heightened when he or she is dependent upon a caregiver. The close personal contact involved with assisting persons with disabilities with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and personal hygiene fosters dependence upon the caregiver. Persons with disabilities may also have an impaired ability to utilize self-defense and avoidance of violence mechanisms. It is a common misperception that persons with disabilities are incapable of relationships and not interested in or able to engage in sexual acts. Others may perceive that persons with disabilities are not capable of accurately understanding or communicating what has happened to them. Consequently, when a person discloses that he or she is a victim of abuse, they are frequently not believed. These situations are complex and place persons with disabilities at greater risk of abuse.

Dependency

  • Vulnerability is heightened when person is dependent upon a caregiver

  • The close personal contact involved with assisting persons with disabilities with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and personal hygiene fosters dependence upon the caregiver

  • Research suggests that 97-99% of abusers are known and trusted by victims who have developmental disabilities. Of that percentage it is estimated 44% had a relationship with the victim specifically relating to the person's disability (Baladerian, 1991)

  • When abuse by a caregiver is witnessed by another, it may not be reported for multiple reasons including:

    • Shock

    • Fear for personal safety

    • Reluctance to break the code of silence among fellow employees

    • Reluctance to become involved.

Communication Abilities

  • The person may be unable to communicate easily with others. For example they may have poor articulation, limited expressive skills or need assistive devices which can break down, be misplaced, taken away or lost

Physical Capabilities

  • Due to the nature of the disability, a person may be unable to physically remove themselves from an abusive situation.

Poverty

  • Lack of money may limit or prevent the person from acquiring necessary assistive devices, moving to and living in a safe environment, or becoming more independent.

Social Isolation

  • Persons may live in over protected or isolated environments

  • Lack of physical access may prevent people from fully participating in community life

  • Persons with disabilities are often taught to be compliant and encouraged not to question authority figures/caregivers

  • Lack of and inappropriate social exposure and interaction contribute to a misleading notion of social roles and expectations and foster learned helplessness

Discrimination

  • In the work environment people with disabilities have not been hired or are treated differently which may lead to poverty and/or social isolation.

  • In the criminal justice system cases have often been dismissed due to the complexities and difficulties associated with these cases.

Stigmas and Stereotypes

  • It is a common misperception that persons with disabilities are asexual (do not have sexual desires)

  • They are incapable of having intimate relationships

  • They are unable to engage in sexual acts

  • Intellectual abilities are always compromised

  • Unable to control sexual desires

May Not Be Believed

When a person with a disability discloses that she or he is a victim of sexual violence or abuse, they are frequently not believed and they may also have an impaired ability to avoid, stop or prevent abuse.

These contributing factors can be complex and place persons with disabilities at greater risk of sexual assault and abuse.

Where Does Violence Occur?

  • Anywhere

    • Private Homes

    • Community Residences

    • Long Term Care Facilities

    • State Facilities

    • Work and Day Programs

    • Transportation Vehicles

Abuse can occur anywhere. Do not assume that there is any environment where a person with a disability is completely safe. Respect the balance between risk and a person's right to live as independently as possible.