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Survey Finds Disability Abuse Widespread


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More than 7 in 10 with disabilities say they’ve been abused, according to a new national survey, and in many cases individuals say the problems occur repeatedly.

In what’s believed to be the largest survey of its kind, over 7,200 people with disabilities, family members, advocates, service providers and other professionals were polled between May and October 2012.

The findings, released this week, suggest that abuse of people with disabilities is widespread across the country and often overlooked.

More than 70 percent of those with disabilities polled said they had been abused and over 60 percent of family members indicated that their loved one with special needs had been mistreated.

In about half of cases, victims said they experienced physical abuse. Some 40 percent reported sexual abuse and nearly 90 percent of those who said they had been violated indicated they were verbally or emotionally harmed. Neglect and financial abuse were also frequently cited.

“Too many people are abused too much, with very little on the response side to help in the aftermath,” said Nora J. Baladerian, director of the Disability and Abuse Project, which conducted the survey. “The extent of abuse is epidemic, and the inadequate response is disturbing.”

Among those who were victimized, more than 9 in 10 said they were abused more than once with 57 percent indicating they had experienced mistreatment more than 20 times, the survey found.

Incidents of abuse were not reported in about half of cases and even when authorities were alerted, survey results indicate that arrests were made only about 10 percent of the time.

Findings from the survey are expected to be presented next week at the National Center for Victims of Crime conference in Phoenix and at a joint conference of the American Bar Association and the American Psychological Association in October in Washington, D.C.

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Comments (14 Responses)

  1. Ellen Kirstein says:

    I work in the field and am shocked by these findings. My agency spends a good deal of time educating both our staff and clients about abuse, reporting it and promoting self advocacy. Obviously there needs to be more done throughout the country. It is sad to think that some of our nation’s most vulnerable population are being mistreated and sadder still that it goes unrecognized.

  2. Karen Driver says:

    We must talk about this . . . people with disabilities should not live in the shadows of our comfort zone: “Too many people are abused too much, with very little on the response side to help in the aftermath,” said Nora J. Baladerian, director of the Disability and Abuse Project, which conducted the survey. “The extent of abuse is epidemic, and the inadequate response is disturbing.”

  3. Raquel says:

    This such study is so alarming. I have my 2 yr old and i cant evenfathomhe being abused. He is about to start a center based program and hearing this makes me think twice. Ho my God i feel so alarmed.

  4. Quite Contrary says:

    I wish the report would back up the statement made on page 6 of the report, “How to Reduce the Risk of Abuse.” The report states: “The next step in risk reduction is to know who likely perpetrators might be. A person with a disability is more likely to be abused by a family member or someone in their daily routine than they are by a complete stranger.” The report NEVER provides the documentation to back up the statement “more likely to be abused by a family member.” I cannot find any Adult Protective Service or Child Protective Service documentation in our state to back up that statement. If someone can provide the proof of that statement, please do so.

  5. Linda A. says:

    Happy to see there are organizations out there to help people like myself. Handicapped by now ex-husband for 20 years having abused me. & my service dog. Would like to know more how the conference In Phoenix, AZ turns out. I live now in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area.

  6. Valerie says:

    This is why parents must demand video monitoring which can be accessed 24/7 via the Internet.

  7. Debbie Jacob says:

    I have a son with Down syndrome and 3 others. I have worked in Special Ed. for almost 10 years. I heard these sort of statistics long before this report. I asked a local officer what he thought and he told me he feels there is an abuser on every block (lets hope it isn’t that high) and he told me it is often the person you trust that is the problem. I have personally known of quite a few children that have been sexually abused, some with special needs and some without – each case it was either a teenage child or someone in charge of caring for the person that abused the child. The cases I know of include a church member babysitting a toddler, two incidents of teens abusing smaller children, a child at respite and one in a group home. We all need to be on the alert…. visit the programs your child may be attending before they go if at all possible… a visit tells you so much – preschool – what is the bathroom setup, are their windows for supervising staff to look in anytime…drop by unexpected once in a while. We had a training at work that emphasized that staff at churches, Boys n Girls clubs, schools etc. should not be left alone with one child ever with a door closed.. and if it is absolutely necessary to work 1:1 (ie. speech, PT) the door should be left open, this protects the child and the worker from being wrongly accused. Then there is the gut feeling… something just doesn’t seem right…check it out …. make sure everything is.

  8. Ed Keith says:

    Abuse is widespread, and is not often recognized as “Typical” abuse…things or words people associate with abuse. Some abuse can be as simple as taking advantage of a disabled person, moving their stuff around or to where they can’t reach or get at it. Imposing yourself on a disabled person who may not want to become confrontational. Asking for money, or stuff a person on a fixed income cannot afford to give away. Just because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you should. Shame on you.

  9. Donna Titze says:

    This is news???? ‘Studies’ and data measuring abuse have been available for years and years and years……..and on and on. Personally, I’m sick and tired of reading about yet another ‘study’ and another promise of “Findings from the survey are expected to be presented….” from bureaucracy and the powers that be. Why can’t those dollars actually be used productively by providing cameras in homes, on school buses and group homes, etc.? Most parents struggle and sacrifice in order to keep their loved ones in their own homes. Cameras are a luxury most cannot afford. Oh yeah, this simple idea which would end much abuse and suffering might replace some of the all important persons doing these redundant studies and heaven forbid, another conference might not be held! My son is now 27 and I’m still waiting for the day that focus is placed on his well-being, rather than on creating careers at his expense.

  10. Carol says:

    We have not kept any statistics about abuse which occurs in hospitals, mental health placements, foster care, etc., until recently. Statistics are still very poor, and hard to find. Problems are covered up. Parents are usually excluded from these places, due to faulty ideas such as “if a child has behavioural issues, it must be caused by the parent”, and justified by statements such as” Parents can’t see other children receiving mental health services because it will violate HIPAA (privacy rights)”, and the rulings and beliefs that state that “psychs and counselors should work with with the child alone, because therapy would be inhibited or ineffective if a parent was present, that the child would not feel free to discuss their true feelings, problems, etc.” THIS IS WRONG ON SO MANY LEVELS!!! (especially in the case of our most vulnerable kids and adults- those with MH, MR, and/or ASD labels, or those with drug/alcohol issues). How can any sane person believe that a child, who may have limited verbal or cognitive skills, or someone who has a brain which is not processing information properly, or who is unable to make safe or appropriate decisions, should be making all decisions alone, without the help and support of family members? And then the family members are left to pick up the pieces… We are the only ones who truly care, and who are always there, without being paid… and unfortunately the problems are often made worse by the system which is supposed to help our children. Parents in the cancer wards see other children who have cancer, and they interact with other parents, and offer support for each other, as well as for their own children. How is this any different from seeing other children with mental health issues, and their parents? We are now at the stage where parents are allowed- and encouraged- to have a cot in their child’s hospital room, to have unrestricted visiting hours in the cancer ward, when a child is chronically ill, or facing surgery, etc.- because it is accepted that the child will be frightened, and that the support of the parents will comfort the child, and aid in the recovery. This is true with PHYSICAL issues. Yet, in spite of growing evidence that the physical body affects the functioning of the brain, and in spite of saying that mental health issues should carry a stigma, and should be treated as matter-of-factly as physical issues are treated, those in control will isolate a child with mental health or behavioural issues in a ward with other children of varying ages, all of whom have mental health or behavioural issues. Some of them are violent. Some of them are non-verbal. Some of them have mental retardation, or autism, or schizophrenia; some are bipolar. They are placed in a hospital, in a strange bed, without their parents, siblings, pets. They may not understand why they have been placed in an ambulance, subjected to tests, taken from everyone and everything which is familiar to them. They may not know if they will ever go back, if they will ever see family or friends again. This is the system-the ONLY system which is available for children who are in crisis. And, sadly, many of them are victimized- which creates even MORE problems for the child, and for the family. Parents are often deemed neglectful if they refuse to allow their child to be hospitalized, blamed for not seeking treatment if the problem continues or worsens; yet, admission to this setting, in the opinion of many, not only doesn’t help the child, it increases the problems. Parents often accept this “solution”, because they are told that it is a “solution”. Sadly, for many children, it triggers a revolving door. If parents were permitted to stay with their children, just as they are in the cancer wards, or the regular hospitals, our children would be much safer from physical, sexual, emotional abuse at the hands of other troubled children, or at the hands of sick staff, who are able to abuse our most vulnerable babies without detection… We need a new model of treatment. One which includes, and supports, the parents and families. One which is less drug-oriented. One which focuses on identifying the underlying biological, environmental, nutritional causes, and cures.

  11. michele lucy says:

    Basicly I am abused everyday. Our government is the worst. I have also been abused by the courts, social services, harassed by police, and of course daily abuse from citizens. I have a spinal disease and have to lie down most of the day. I use a cane and am still harassed. Child support had my child support stopped, and then said they didn’t, yet I have the paperwork. Courts discount my child support because of the income I receive from my work record. Ex abuses me almost every time I see him. Social services cut our food stamps to the point I can’t feed myself or my child. Denied HCBS even thigh I can’t even lift a gallon of milk or walk very far, stand or sit very long. All the changes the government is making are designed to kill off the elderly and disabled. I have no faith in my doctors. Soon I will be homeless because my rent is going up, but my income NEVER goes up. My family is “tired” of my disability and they won’t help me, if they do they complain the entire time and want paid. Strangers give me nasty looks, tell me I am lazy, milking the system, could do more. Being disabled like I am is no life. I used to have a nice boyfriend, we were going to get married, but he died. The only men I have met so far want to use me for the tiny bit of disability I receive. The oitrigt abuse of the disabled happens every day at every leave of government and in the general public. I am afraid to go places because I have been seriously hurt by people running into my back with a shopping cart, rear ending my car, basically making my condition worse. Life with a disability sucks!

  12. B. says:

    There is a special needs child in a main stream class.
    I feel the school is not in compliance with his iep.
    I witnessed the special ed coordinator hurting him bad.
    This is not the right way to help him.
    Finally, the school had a lockdown and sent him to hospital.
    I was told I can’t talk @ another child. I had nightmares @ this child getting hurt and dragged.
    Basically the school say if I see something only say something about my own kid
    It’s bad for everyone :(

  13. Nora J. Baladerian, Ph.D. says:

    Donna Titze:
    True other studies have similar findings…but look at the dates! Almost nothing for at least 10 years. Nothing that addresses both children and adults. We needed something current.
    My question to you? what dollars?

  14. Nora J. Baladerian, Ph.D. says:

    Carol: yours is sadly a long list of how we as a society/government fail our kids. Blaming parents has got to go. children do much better in therapy with the support of their non-abuseing parents…and in hospital etc. At the Disability and Abuse Project we seek improvement at the “front end” by having created and published work on how to reduce the risk of abuse, as well as post-abuse work such as our law enforcement training videos and support books for victims and their families.

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