Office for Victims of Crime
State-level Replication Guide
 September 2012 Text size: decrease font size increase font size   Send e-mail icon

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Reasons To Act
Risk Factors for Abuse

Persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse and victimization due to their physical, intellectual, and emotional challenges and, in some cases, their dependence on others for basic needs. Success in identifying and intervening in situations that place persons with disabilities at risk requires an understanding of what makes them more vulnerable to becoming victims of crime, abuse, and neglect.

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 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 decisionmaking 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.