Disability abuse

Disability abuse is when a person with a disability is abused physically, financially, sexually and/or psychologically due to the person having a disability. Disability abuse has also been considered a hate crime.[1] The abuse is not limited to those who are visibly disabled such as wheelchair-users or physically deformed such as those with a cleft lip but also those with learning disabilities or difficulties such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, major depressive disorder and other disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome[2][3] and developmental coordination disorder.[4][5] Abuse of the disabled is not limited to schools. There are many known cases in which the disabled have been abused by staff of a care institution, such as the case revealed in a BBC Panorama programme on a Castlebeck care home (Winterbourne View) near Bristol which led to its closure and the suspension or dismissal of some of the staff.[6]

Risk factors for abuse

Since many disabilities are not visible (for example, asthma, mental illness, or learning disabilities) some abusers cannot rationalise the non-physical disability with a need for understanding, support, and so on. Since some disabled people are in need of additional support from others throughout their lives, they are also vulnerable to neglect.

Those with learning disabilities are often not able to communicate clearly or explain details in a way others understand and are therefore less likely to be believed if they do report.[7]

Forms of abuse


Bullying is an aggressive behavior or attitude towards a person that is unwanted. It is usually a repeated behavior. There is more than just one type of bullying, there is verbal bullying, social, and physical. Verbal bullying consists of name-calling a person, teasing, and threatening to cause harm to the person. Social abuse is intentionally leaving a person out while in a social setting or gathering, or taunting the person. Physical abuse consists of actions such as hitting or pushing someone, pulling their hair, tripping them, or breaking their belongings intentionally. Bullying happens usually before or after school hours, and it is usually done on campus or on the playground of the school. However, it can also happen while on the school bus or going to and from the school bus. Bullying can also happen through the internet or through the phone as well, this is known as cyber bullying.[8]

A 2012 survey by the Interactive Autism Network found that 63% of children with autism are bullied in the United States.[9]

Over a third of autistic adults said they had been bullied at work in a survey by the UK's National Autistic Society.[10]

82% of children with a learning disability in the UK are bullied, according to Mencap, and 79% are scared to go out in case they are bullied.[11]

A survey that was done shows that roughly 7 out of 10 people with disabilities have been abused, and that it is an ongoing problem.[12] It was also found that bullying people with disabilities is a problem that is going on in different countries as well, and that problem is not always surfaced and given attention to.[12]

Bullying is also a cause of disability and exacerbates existing disabilities.

Bullying can occur in a variety of forms. They aren't always physical. Verbal bullying and non-verbal bullying occur often. Catherine Thornberry and Karin Olson claim that carers often dehumanize disabled people, taking away their abilities and qualities that make them a person and lowering them to the level of just an object or a thing. They found that the caregivers or assistants are often the ones who are unintentionally bullying the disabled individuals. The caregivers look at the individuals at lower standard than they do other people, leading to Thornberry and Olson labeling of disabled individuals as a hate crime.[13]

Bullying a child with a disability is considered to be harassment.[14]

Sexual abuse

Disabled people are more vulnerable to sexual abuse than the general population for numerous reasons. As they are less likely to report what has happened to them, their rapists are able to get away with the abuse. Victims are often not taken seriously due to ableism which intersects with societal myths about sexual violence, for example, that 'ugly' people aren't raped, since society's beauty standard devalues disability.

According to Valenti-Hein & Schwartz, only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving developmentally disabled people are ever reported, more than 90% of developmentally disabled people will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives, and 49% will experience 10 or more abusive incidents.[15]

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry by Sequeira, Howlin, & Hollins found that sexual abuse is associated with a higher incidence of psychiatric and behavioural disorder in people with learning disabilities in a case-control study. Sexual abuse was associated with increased rates of mental illness and behavioural problems, and with symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Psychological reactions to abuse were similar to those observed in the general population, but with the addition of stereotypical behavior. The more serious the abuse, the more severe the symptoms that were reported.[16]

Sexual abuse is less likely to be reported by individuals with disabilities. The people that surround these individuals are often found to be less likely to report these cases of abuse. Society sees the disabled as weak and vulnerable targets, making it easy for the abuser to not feel guilty or to blame themselves. More often than not people figure they can trust their physicians or doctors who provide care for these individuals. In a clinical study it was found that the physicians would provide poor quality of care to individuals with disabilities. They would suppress the problems instead of addressing them by giving them drugs to make them be quiet. It was also found that physicians were less likely to report sexual abuse or any abuse that they found present on these individuals. They justified these actions by believing that in society that disabled people matter less than any other person.[17]


Extreme disability abuse can lead directly or indirectly to death. In Tanzania, people with albinism are hunted by witchcraft practitioners for their organs.[18]

There have been numerous cases of parents of children with disabilities who have murdered their children because of their disabilities. Sometimes the parents kill themselves alongside their child. It was even advocated by Aristotle in the case of congenital deformity—"As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live."[19] and is documented in various indigenous societies. Disabled girls and women are particularly vulnerable to abuse.[20]

In England and Wales over 1700 disability hate crimes were recorded by police in 2011 and 2012, but a review by the Crown Prosecution Service said that they are 'overlooked' and 'under-reported'.[21][22]

Impacts of abuse

There was one study done that shows 60 percent of the children with disabilities come forth about being bullied regularly, versus 25 percent of the students who are being bullied with no disabilities.[23] This can also affect their learning and school and education. Their grades are more at risk in dropping, they have a more difficult time concentrating, and there is no interest in school and the learning material. All of this can lead to the child dropping out of school.[24]

See also


  1. Quarmby, Katharine. "Scapegoat: Why we are failing disabled people". Portobello, 2011.
  2. Sainsbury, Clare. "Martian in the Playground: Understanding the schoolchild with Asperger's syndrome". Paul Chapman Publishing, 2000.
  3. Attwood, Tony. "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome". Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007, pp 95–111.
  4. Kirby, Amanda. "Dyspraxia: The Hidden Handicap". Souvenir Press, 1999, pp106-113.
  5. Brookes, Geoff. "Dyspraxia". Continuum, 2005, 2007 (second edition), pp 43–46.
  6. "Four arrests after patient abuse caught on film". BBC News. 2011-06-01. Retrieved 2011-09-03. Consequences of the BBC undercover report
  7. Cooke, Leila (1997). "Learning Disability and Abuse". Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 10 (5): 369–372. doi:10.1097/00001504-199709000-00007 via Ovid.
  8. "Bullying definition". Stop Bullying.
  9. "Survey finds 63% of children with autism bullied". CBS News.
  10. Cassidy, Sarah (2012-05-14). "Autistic adults bullied and not supported at work, poll shows". The Independent (UK). London.
  11. "Eight of out 10 disabled children bullied, report finds". Mencap. 2007-06-18. Retrieved 2016-10-23.
  12. "Survey Finds Disability Abuse Widespread". Disability Scoop. 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2016-03-09.
  13. Thornberry, Catherine, and Karin Olson. "The Abuse of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities." Developmental Disabilities Bulletin 33.1-2 (n.d.): 1-19. EBSCO Host. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
  14. "Bullying and Harassment of Students with Disabilities". Top 10 facts parents, educators, and students need to know.
  15. "People with Mental Retardation & Sexual Abuse" (PDF). by Leigh Ann Davis. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-18.
  16. Sequeira, H, Howlin, P, Hollins, S (2003). "Psychological disturbance associated with sexual abuse in people with learning disabilities. Case-control study". British Journal of Psychiatry. 183 (5): 451–456. doi:10.1192/bjp.183.5.451.
  17. Ryan, Ruth; Salbenblatt, James; Schiappacasse, Joseph; Maly, Bernard (2001). "Physician unwitting participation in abuse and neglect of persons with developmental disabilities". Community Mental Health Journal. 37 (6): 499–509. doi:10.1023/A:1017526112637. PMID 11504143.
  18. Aquaron, R; Djatou, M; Kamdem, L (2009). "Sociocultural aspects of albinism in Sub-Saharan Africa: mutilations and ritual murders committed in east Africa (Burundi and Tanzania)". Med Trop (Mars). 69 (5): 449–53. PMID 20025171.
  19. Dunn, PM (2006). "Aristotle (384–322 bc): philosopher and scientist of ancient Greece". Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition. 91 (1): F75–7. doi:10.1136/adc.2005.074534. PMC 2672651. PMID 16371395.
  20. "Women and girls with disabilities". UN Enable.
  21. "Disability hate crime is 'overlooked and under-reported'". BBC. 2013-03-21.
  22. "People with Mental Retardation & Sexual Abuse". The Awareness Center. 2002-08-18.
  23. "Top 10 facts parents, educators, and Students need to Know". Bullying and Harassment of Students with Disabilities.
  24. "Top 10 facts parents. educators, and students need to know". National Bullying prevention center.

Further reading

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