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The Truth About Abuse: How People with Disabilities Are More Vulnerable to Abuse

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, religion or sexuality. Yet some groups of people are uniquely vulnerable to abuse. In particular, people with disabilities are more likely to experience violence than people without disabilities. They may also face barriers to obtaining support, such as inaccessible services, or services that are not tailored for the unique needs of people with disabilities.

People with disabilities make up a fraction of the population, yet they are two to three times more likely to experience violence in comparison to those without disabilities. Some have described the increased prevalence of crime targeted towards people with disabilities as an epidemic.

For example, in 2018, NPR uncovered unpublished Justice Department data on sex crimes. This data showed that people with intellectual disabilities are the victims of sexual assault at rates more than seven times those for people without disabilities. According to NPR, they are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know and during daytime hours. Predators often target people with intellectual disabilities because they know that will have difficulty testifying later. Law enforcement is often reluctant to charge these crimes because they are difficult to win in court. As a result, people who abuse those with intellectual disabilities often go unpunished.

Domestic violence against people with disabilities is also disturbingly common in the United States. A study by the Spectrum Institute Disability and Abuse Project found that 70% of respondents with disabilities experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner, family member, caregiver, acquaintance or stranger. Of those that reported abuse:

  • 87.2% experienced verbal/emotional abuse

  • 50.6% experienced physical abuse

  • 41.6% experienced sexual abuse

  • 37.4% experienced neglect

  • 31.5% experienced financial abuse

  • 37.3% reported the abuse to law enforcement

Only 10% of the alleged abusers were arrested in the cases that were reported to law enforcement.

At Blackburn Center, we believe that this epidemic of violence towards people with disabilities must be addressed. We have partnered with ACHIEVA and Westmoreland Case Management and Supports, Inc. (WCSI) to provide awareness and education about the abuse of people with disabilities, as well as the dynamics of trauma. Our first program “The Truth About Abuse” will be presented on April 4, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the WCSI conference center in Greensburg. People with disabilities, families, professionals and community members are all welcome to attend this free program.

As always, if you or someone you love has been affected by violence, we are here for you. Our hotline is open 24 hours a day at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122. TDD is available for our hotline. We offer a range of services for victims of all types of violence and crimes, all of which are accessible or can be accessible for people with disabilities.

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