Crime statistics related to persons with disabilities are sobering:
- According to a recent national study, persons with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than persons without disabilities, depending on age, crime, and gender (Harrell and Rand, 2010). (Note: This statistic may be low, as it does not include people living in nontraditional residences, such as group homes, nursing homes, and institutions.)
- In a national study on abuse perpetrated by personal assistants, Powers and colleagues (2002) reported that 67 percent of the 200 women with physical and/or cognitive disabilities who were interviewed reported lifetime physical abuse and 53 percent reported lifetime sexual abuse.
- In a survey of 5,326 North Carolina women, women who self-reported having a disability were 7.6 times more likely to have been sexually assaulted than women without disabilities (Martin et al., 2006).
In addition, persons with disabilities and people who are Deaf are less likely to receive assistance from victim services or the criminal justice system in the aftermath of abuse or assault.
Considering some of the civil rights strides persons with disabilities have made in the past two decades, it is all the more troubling that crime rates remain high and discrepancies in service persist. But persist they do, in part because of the following:
- Disability service providers are often unaware of the high rate of abuse or of what to do when someone discloses abuse.
- Victim service providers may not understand how to adapt services to persons with disabilities.
- Crimes against persons with disabilities, if they are reported at all, may be more easily dismissed by the criminal justice system.
- Crime victims with disabilities themselves often do not report crimes because they
- Do not know whom/where to call for help.
- Lack communication options (e.g., American Sign Language interpreters).
- Rely on the perpetrator for physical or financial assistance.
- Fear they might lose their children or their ability to live in the community.
- Do not realize that what they are experiencing is abuse.
- Lack the support they need to get help.
- Fear they will not be believed.
- Have previous negative experiences with law enforcement, domestic violence/sexual assault services, or other victim service agencies.