Abusing the Disabled: Violence & Sexual Abuse

Abusing the disabled Abuse of people with disabilities is widespread and takes on many forms, including physical and emotional abuse, sexual and economic manipulation.

Based on the statistical report of the Australian Network of Disability, there are approximately 4 million people in Australia that are identified as disabled or have some form of disability. They are classified as follows:

  • Deafness
  • Blind or have low vision
  • Dyslexia
  • Mental Health Disorder

Defining Disability

What is a disability? Does it differ from being a handicapped or impaired? Obviously, these questions seem to not have any clear distinction as these three terms are interchangeably used to refer to “disability”.

In general, the term disability refers to some specified condition or manifested by a particular individual who are somehow physically or mentally restricted. Disabilities are present when activities that are routinely performed by people (e.g., walking, reading, speaking) are somehow restricted or cannot be done in habituated ways.

The Disabled People’s International (DPI) paved the way to a more specific definition of disability. DPI cited the work of Goodley to offer a distinction between impairment and disability:

  • IMPAIRMENT: is described as functional limitation within the person which can be in the form of physical, mental or sensory impairment.
  • DISABILITY: is the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers.

Abusing the Disabled: Violence & Sexual Abuse

Any “person with disability” poses more serious challenges when it comes to protecting themselves especially when it comes to violence and sexual abuse. According to the Journal of Social Work & Human Sexuality, “the prevalence of sexual coercion specifically rape, is at least as common for people with disabilities as compared to other people.” Young girls are more likely to be abused sexually than boys. A conservative estimate shows that 38% of girls and 16% of boys are sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.

Women and children with disabilities are also at serious risk for sexual abuse. This would refer to inappropriate sexual contact between a child or an adult and someone who has some kind of family or professional authority over them. It may include verbal remarks, fondling or kissing, or attempted or completed intercourse.

Abuse and violence may also occur within intimate relationships or at the hands of family, friends, or strangers. Abuse also comes from paid and unpaid caregivers in both private and institutional settings. The sad truth is abusing the disabled is easily facilitated when a victim is dependent on his or her abuser for access to transportation, medical care, personal care, and other needs.

Additional blockades exist that can make achieving safety and justice for victims with disabilities a uniquely difficult and complex problem. People with disabilities often have very limited options when attempting to seek justice and safety. This could be due to physical limitations related to disability, lack of financial means, or due to the abuse itself. The disabled person experiences isolation which makes surviving with a disability a lot more difficult. The presence of discrimination and stigma leads to a deeper isolation to the person with disability, and in other cases, where developmental disability or mental illness is involved, the victim may be supposed as unreliable, making their allegations to the perpetrators not to be taken seriously.