What Should Everyone Know About Abuse?

By Nora J. Baladerian, Ph.D.

As I thought about writing this blog, I wondered, “what do I wish that everyone could know about abuse?” My first thought was I would want everyone who is a person with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) or their loved one, to know that abuse can happen to anyone… everyone. Having a disability is not a protection. Many parents and teachers have told me, “well, no one would abuse my child/the children I teach… because they have disabilities.” Their belief blinds them to the reality that abuse not only does happen to kids and adults with disabilities, but in fact it happens more to people with than without disabilities.

The most recent surveys confirm this. In February 2014, the National Crime Victim Survey noted that among those between ages 12-15, those with disabilities were victimized three times more than their non-disabled peers. The 2012 National Survey on Abuse and Disability (7,289 responses) found that 70% respondents with disabilities reported abuse in their lifetimes. And, of these, 90% said that it happened multiple times, and 46% said it happened too many times to count.

Of course it is important to study the problem of abuse to know the extent of the problem. Then it is time to take the next step:  Help the survivors, and make efforts to reduce the risk of abuse. This means, make plans to reduce the risk that abuse will happen to each child and adult with a disability. It also means to make sure that each crime victim receives the psychological support they will need. Finally, it means that the criminal justice system should be available to individuals with disabilities… which it is not now.

The 2012 National Survey showed that nearly half of crime victims did not report the abuse, and of these most did not report, believing that their report would not result in any legal action against the perpetrator. Those who reported the crimes, 54% found that their reports did not result in any legal action. This shows that the fears of those not reporting were well-founded. And, this points us in a direction for reform. What can be done to ensure equal justice is available for crime victims with disabilities?

I believe these findings give us the information needed to design a plan of action. A written  plan of action has been in place at least since 1997, when the California Think Tank on Abuse and Disability convened in Los Angeles, CA and created a plan for the state. Perhaps now, these ideas can become reality. The most essential pieces of the plan include:

  1. Give every parent/careprovider/conservator a copy of the “Ten Tips on Abuse & Disability” to learn that abuse does happen, and the steps to take if it does. If parents and careproviders do not believe it happens or can happen, they will not protect their children nor be aware of what they should do and say when abuse is revealed to them. Parents are taught many things, but this essential area is ignored. ENOUGH! Every physician, psychologist (or other mental health practitioners), disability services agency, school, etc. should make sure that parents are aware and ready to protect their child. By simply handing them the “Ten Tips,” a one page guide, the parents’ have been given their first step: awareness, information, and resources.
  2. Every agency/organization providing services to crime victims and/or people with disabilities should receive an annual one-day training on abuse issues: incidence and prevalence, perpetrator information, risk-reduction strategies and support for survivors.
  3. Every law enforcement professional (patrol, detective, investigator, captain; prosecutor, judge, etc.) should receive at least one day of training each year on the aspects of interacting with individuals with disabilities, conducting a thorough investigation, knowledge on specialized interviewing skills, and in particular familiarization with the daily life of individuals with disabilities and the programs/ individuals who serve them. Budgets for training have always been identified as a barrier, but another is the interest level and commitment of those in charge of training. We have to continue to knock at the doors of agencies, until such training is a standard part of their training package.
  4. Every medical professional working with people with disabilities (that’s all of them, I think!) and mental health professional should be required to have at least one day training on working effectively with people with disabilities, with a particular awareness of the role abuse plays in their lives. Specialized therapies for crime victims with disabilities should be a part of the training of all trauma specialists and crisis and disaster responders.
  5. Most importantly, all individuals with disabilities should be provided information about abuse, maltreatment and assault. They should be able to understand what it is. They should have a plan designed for them or with them by their parents/carers, so they know what is happening if an assault happens, what to do before, during and after. The parents and carers should also receive education, information and training on what they should do before and after their loved one experiences violence.

I believe that it is my duty, and that of others, to do what we can within our scope of work and life, to ensure the well being of individuals with disabilities. I don’t know why I believe that, exactly, but it has turned out that that is my life’s work. I do not say that should be everyone’s work!!!  But, I think that within each of our job duties, there is something we can do to be a part of the solution.

The Arc of the US, and the Disability and Abuse Project, among others, have committed to develop resources that are easily accessible.  Visiting their sites monthly would be a good idea to stay up to date on availability of resources.

References:

U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2012)  NCJ240299 Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities,2009-2012.  Statistics Tables. Retrieved on 2/26/14 from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4884

Baladerian, N., Coleman, T., Stream, J., (2013) Abuse of People with Disabilities Victims and Their Families Speak Out:  A Report on the 2012 National Survey on Abuse of People with Disabilities, retrieved on 4/1/14 from http://www.disabilityandabuse.org/survey

Baladerian, N.,  (2014) from A Risk Reduction Workbook for Parents and Service Providers, Spectrum Institute. Retrieved on 4/4/14 from http://www.disabilityandabuse.org/resources/ten-point-guide-to-abuse-response.pdf

 

Dr. Nora Baladerian is the Director of the Disability, Abuse and Personal Rights Project in Los Angeles, CA; she has worked in the area of abuse of people with disabilities since 1972. She is a former Board Member of the National Committee to Prevent Elder Abuse and Advisory Board Member of the American Bar Association’s Council on Victims. Dr. Baladerian is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Sex Therapist and Board Certified Crisis Responder. She is the Project Coordinator for the Disability and Abuse Project of Spectrum Institute, and from 2000-2006 the Director of the CAN Do! Project, Child Abuse & Neglect Disability Outreach at Arc Riverside.

The Arc Reacts to Startling New Bureau of Justice Statistics on Crimes against People with Cognitive and Other Disabilities

This week, The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a report on Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009–2012 – Statistical Tables.  Disabilities are classified according to six limitations: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living.  Among persons with disabilities, those with cognitive disabilities experienced the highest rate of violent victimization (63 per 1,000).  Violent crime against persons with disabilities was nearly three times higher than the rate for persons without disabilities.  The rate of serious violent crime—rape or other sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault—against persons with disabilities was nearly four times higher than that for persons without disabilities in 2012.

The Arc, which is running the new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, released the following statement on the data:

“This startling data illustrates what we are hearing from self-advocates, parents, caregivers, and others within our chapter network and the disability community – people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at particular risk of being victims of crimes of all kinds.  It’s a serious problem that we must no longer ignore or treat as a peripheral issue.  In order to effectively address this silent epidemic of unaddressed abuse and victimization among people with disabilities in the U.S., we must have support from all levels of the community – disability advocates, law enforcement, victim advocates, legal professionals, elected leaders, community advocates, and people with disabilities themselves who know all too well the trauma of victimization and the devastation of receiving little or no support.

“The Arc’s new Center on Criminal Justice and Disability aims to be a comprehensive resource to help turn these statistics around so that people with disabilities can lead safer lives in their community and access support and begin to heal when victimization occurs,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc’s new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) under one roof.  The Center launched its new website earlier this week.

The Arc Launches New National Resource Center on Justice and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Office of Justice Programs SealWashington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce it has been awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop a national center on justice and intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  According to the National Crime Victim Survey of 2010, the victimization rate is twice as high for individuals with disabilities as compared to those without disabilities.  And we don’t have to look far for examples where law enforcement and people with I/DD could have benefited from this kind of work, including the tragic death of Robert Ethan Saylor in Frederick, Maryland, who died earlier this year after three off-duty deputies attempted to remove him from a movie theater over a misunderstanding over a ticket.

The goal of this project is to create a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system – both as victims and offenders.

“When individuals with I/DD become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice. This new center will play a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with I/DD and the justice system.  No similar center on this topic exists, nor are there sufficient resources to address the gap in expertise in the field, and so this effort is long overdue,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc will work closely with several other national partners within the criminal justice, legal and victim advocacy communities to research, analyze and replicate evidence-based solutions to the problems of injustice and victimization that have gone on for far too long within the I/DD community.  For example, people with I/DD are often unable to report crimes or are not seen as credible witnesses. They are also vulnerable to becoming perpetrators of crime, including sex offenses, and used by other criminals to assist in law-breaking activities. And with many forms of mild I/DD not being easily identifiable, justice personnel may not recognize that someone has a disability or know how to work effectively with the individual. Although organized training is available for criminal justice professionals on mental illness, few resources on I/DD exist. Many law enforcement and other justice professionals do not know the difference between mental illness and I/DD and often think they are synonymous.

“When our chapters work with their local law enforcement agencies, they hear time and time again that training is provided for mental health issues, yet that doesn’t encompass millions of people with I/DD living in our communities.  Through this grant, The Arc’s center will become a national focal point for the collection and dissemination of resources and serve as a bridge between the justice and disability communities,” said Berns.

The center will consist of a resource library, directories of expert witnesses, attorneys, forensic interviewers, and victim advocates, a database of relevant state laws, and hands-on technical assistance and training.  Additionally, The Arc will create a Justice and I/DD Certification program using training curriculum authored by Leigh Ann Davis, M.S.S.W., M.P.A., and hold five trainings around the country and web-based trainings.

Shining a Light on Violence Against People with Disabilities

On any given day in the United States, someone with an intellectual disability becomes the next victim of violence, and usually without much notice. This month, for example, a house manager at a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities in Maryland was charged with multiple counts of assault and reckless endangerment for physically abusing a resident. No one would’ve ever known, except the assault surfaced in a YouTube video providing clear evidence of the crime. And, one ESPN producer reached out to The Arc and other disability organizations recently about a story involving a coach accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year old participating in Special Olympics. Upon further research into the issue, the producer was so alarmed by the sheer number of people with disabilities who are sexually assaulted that they requested others to speak out in an effort to expand their report.

To the shock and disbelief of many, these disturbing instances of violence are commonplace in the lives of people with disabilities. The National Crime Victim Survey reveals that people with disabilities are twice as likely to become victims of crime compared to those without disabilities. Even more alarming, people with intellectual disabilities are more likely to be victimized compared to those with other types of disabilities (such as physical disabilities). The Arc receives calls from all over the country – from concerned family members, friends and people with disabilities themselves – seeking help and answers. They often need to know what to do next, where to get legal assistance, how to help an attorney understand intellectual disability, and how to find a qualified counselor to work through the trauma of victimization. Traditionally, victim advocates and disability advocates have not shared expertise and resources to address this issue, but that has slowly been changing over the past few years, creating more opportunities for victims with intellectual disabilities to obtain much-needed services and supports.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and this week, April 21-27, is Crime Victim’s Rights Week. It’s a perfect time for chapters of The Arc, other service providers and advocates to reach out to their local victim assistance agencies alerting them to the high risk of violence and victimization that people with intellectual disabilities face throughout their lives. The Office for Victims of Crime created a guide in 2012 for states wanting to take a team approach, bringing together law enforcement, prosecutors, adult protective, human services and self-advocates, to ensure equal access to the criminal justice system for people with disabilities. And The Arc offers fact sheets on a wide variety of topics including the Abuse of Children with Intellectual Disabilities and People with Intellectual Disabilities and Sexual Violence.

Is Justice For All…Even for Victims with Intellectual Disabilities?

Victims of crime who have intellectual and developmental disabilities face significant barriers when accessing the justice system. This became starkly evident in a recent case from Connecticut. Richard Fourtin was convicted of sexually assaulting a twenty-five year old woman with significant intellectual and physical disabilities including cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus. In the case of Fourtin v. Connecticut, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the conviction earlier this month, finding that the woman could have used “gestures, biting, kicking and screaming” to indicate her lack of consent to sexual intercourse. In response, The Arc of Connecticut signed onto an amicus curiae brief with other disability agencies and they are working toward revising state laws regarding victims with disabilities.

This case ignited fury among disability and victim advocates alike because the prosecution seemed to place blame on the victim for not doing what she either was incapable of doing (many victims freeze when they are being assaulted and are not sure how to respond or wonder if doing so could result in personal injury) or perhaps didn’t realize she had a choice to do. She may not have realized the actions against her were criminal. People with disabilities often don’t understand or appreciate what is happening to them when a sexual assault occurs, especially when they haven’t been taught what acts are considered a crime. Most people with disabilities experience violence more than once throughout their lives, and if they are living in a pattern of abuse, it is especially hard for them to recognize the criminal nature of an offender’s behavior.

Ongoing education to prevent sexual violence must be a priority in our advocacy communities due to the sheer number of people this problem affects, and the resulting untold, devastating consequences it has on so many lives. We must also concentrate on educating lawmakers, law enforcement and the courts about issues of victimization of people with I/DD. Consider this data from the National Crime Victim Survey (revised):

  • In 2010, the victimization rate for people with disabilities was almost twice the rate among  people without disabilities.
  • Serious violence (including rape and sexual assault) accounted for about 50% of violent acts against people with disabilities.
  • People with cognitive disabilities (which includes intellectual and developmental disabilities) experienced the highest rate of violent victimization.

October is National Crime Prevention Month, it’s a great time for chapters of The Arc and other advocates to support crime victims with intellectual disabilities.. Reaching out to local victim assistance agencies and offering education and support in their effort to help crime victims with disabilities is a great first step. Consider partnering together in a media campaign about preventing the victimization of people with disabilities. Support self-advocates who are beginning to speak up for themselves against violence in their lives by helping them develop brief presentations about this topic that they can take to the community (schools, police departments, rape crisis centers). And, let’s band together to be sure our support of people with I/DD extends to making sure crime victims are not victimized again by the criminal justice system. Find out more about victimization and criminal justice issues on The Arc’s website.

The Arc of Delaware County Speaks Out on Attack on Woman with Disabilities

The Arc of Delaware County is appalled at the senselessness of the recent attack on a woman with disabilities in Chester, Delaware County. According to Frank Bartoli, Executive Director, “This was a savage and cruel act on a person with a disability.”

People with disabilities are far too often targets of crime. This extreme example of bullying calls for better public awareness and sensitivity training in our schools. What possible circumstances would lead teenage girls to think these acts would meet their needs for notoriety. The Arc hopes this horrific incident leads to a forensic analysis of the events and that lessons are learned so that persons with disabilities are treated with equal respect. The Arc believes that this incident draws attention to the need for students with and without disabilities to be educated together, to learn from each other and to value each other as peers and friends.

The Arc has a long history of standing up for the rights of people with disabilities and The Arc stands ready to assist local law enforcement in their investigation and to assist other people with disabilities who may need our assistance.

The Arc Reacts to Alleged Crimes against Four Individuals with Disabilities in Philadelphia

WASHINGTON, DC – Peter V. Berns, the CEO of The Arc of the United States, released the following statement regarding the alleged crimes committed against four individuals with disabilities in Philadelphia discovered over the weekend.

“The horrifying news out of Philadelphia about the four people with disabilities locked up in deplorable conditions is inexcusable and the justice system must get to the bottom of this case. People with disabilities are often the target of violent crime, in fact the 2008 National Crime Victim Survey found that violent crimes committed against people with disabilities is twice as high compared to those without disabilities. That’s why The Arc works with law enforcement and victim advocates to enhance their skills in reaching out to and supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are victims, to give them the tools they need to move from victim to survivor.”