People with disabilities are devalued.
In general, throughout our society, people with disabilities are viewed as “less than” someone who doesn’t have a disability – less smart, less capable, less able, and even less deserving. Some people even feel that a person with a disability should be pitied – that you should feel sad for that person. Negative stereotypes and prejudices can lead people to treat people with disabilities poorly.
People with disabilities are not seen as credible.
People with disabilities are seen as unreliable or less credible. Because of this myth, people with disabilities who report abuse often aren’t believed or they are viewed as less credible. The victims are silenced. Abusers know this myth exists and they use it to their advantage: “No one will believe you, even if you do tell.”
People with disabilities are isolated.
People with disabilities are often segregated and isolated in communities. While there have been policy and practice shifts away from putting people with disabilities in institutions and towards community-based care, many people with disabilities still live in institutions or nursing homes, which can be just as isolating. Even people with disabilities living in the community experience isolation, as social segregation between people with disabilities and those without persists. Isolation leads to invisibility and violence thrives behind closed doors.
Compliance is expected.
Many people with disabilities, especially people who have an intellectual or cognitive disability, are taught and expected to follow the directions of those “in charge” and comply with someone else’s wants, needs, or demands. There’s a belief that if a person with a disability just does what he’s told, he’ll be safe and get along okay in life. This is a dangerous belief and practice because anyone who’s taught and expected to automatically do what she’s told is more vulnerable and at risk of abuse. Abusers of people with disabilities rely on compliance. Expecting people with disabilities to be compliant “to those in charge” sets them up to be “perfect” targets for abusers to hurt and harm them.
People with disabilities are seen as “easy targets.”
Sexual assault and physical abuse is motivated by wanting to exert power and control over another person. Someone who is devalued, taught to be compliant, and seen as less credible by others is easier to have power over and easier to control. It is for this very reason that people with disabilities are seen as “easy” targets.
The problem is hidden.
Few people in general want to talk about or report when they have been raped or physically abused. The stigma that surrounds these types of interpersonal violence breeds silence. Add to that silence the myths, expectations of compliance, and devalued views held about people with disabilities. The result? People with disabilities who are abused are doubly silenced – who they are and the hurt and harm they experience is not widely known, understood, or taken seriously.
1 From the website of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
2 Center on Victimization and Safety (CVS) at the Vera Institute of Justice.
3 "Abuse of People with Disabilities: Victims and Their Families Speak Out"; A Report on the 2012 National Survey on
Abuse of People with Disabilities; Spectrum Institute, The Disability and Abuse Project.”
4 Valenti Hein and Schwartz. The sexual abuse interview for those with developmental disabilities, 1995
5 Wilson, C. and Brewer, N. (1992), The Incidence of Criminal Victimisation of Individuals with an Intellectual Disability. Australian Psychologist, 27: 114–117.
6 Sobsey. Violence and abuse in the lives of people with developmental disabilities: The end of silent acceptance? 1994
7 Abramson, 2005; Carlson, 1998; Hassounen-Phillips and Curry, 2002; Milberger et al., 2003; Oktay and Tompkins, 2004; Powers et al., 2002; Young et al., 1997