Disability abuse

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Disabled people are affected by what is termed disability abuse, and such activity has been cited as 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 (actually a learning difficulty) such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, and other disabilities, including Asperger's syndrome, Down syndrome[2][3] and developmental coordination disorder.[4][5] In the latter case, this is linked to a poor ability in physical education, and this behaviour can be encouraged by the unthinking physical education teacher.[who?] 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 and sacking of some of the staff.[6]

Those with learning disabilities are often not as able to explain things to other people so are more likely to be disbelieved or ignored if they do complain.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Disabled girls and women are particularly vulnerable to abuse.[7]


A 2012 survey by the Interactive Autism Network found that 63% of children with autism are bullied in the United States.[8]

Over a third of autistic adults said they had been bullied at work in a survey by the UK's National Autistic Society.[9]

82% of children with learning disability in the UK are bullied, according to Mencap, and 79% are scared to go out in case they are bullied.[10]

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

Bullying can take occur in a variety of forms. They aren't always physical. Verbal bullying and nonverbal bullying are the ones that occur very often. Catherine Thornberry and Karin Olson in “The Abuse of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities" argue how individuals with disabilities are dehumanized by people who are supposed to help assist them. Dehumanizing somebody means that you are taking away their abilities and qualities that make them a person and lowering them to the level of just an object or a thing. Catherine Thornberry and Karin Olson often found that the caregivers or assistants are the ones who are unintentionally bullying the disabled individuals. The caregivers look at the individuals at slower standard than they do other people, which is discrimination. Acts like these are what lead to the discrimination of disabled individuals to a hate crime.[11]

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 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.[12]

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 behaviour. The more serious the abuse, the more severe the symptoms that were reported. http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/183/5/451[13]

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. The justified these actions by believing that in society that disabled people matter less than any other human. [14]


Extreme disability abuse can lead directly or indirectly to death. In Tanzania, people with albinism are hunted by witchcraft practitioners for their organs.[15]

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'.[16][17]

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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Consequences of the BBC undercover report
  7. "Women and girls with disabilities". UN Enable.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Survey finds 63% of children with autism bullied". CBS News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Cassidy, Sarah (2012-05-14). "Autistic adults bullied and not supported at work, poll shows". The Independent (UK). London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Disablist bullying is wrecking children's lives says Mencap". Mencap. 2007-06-18. Retrieved 2013-08-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 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.
  12. "People with Mental Retardation & Sexual Abuse" (PDF). by Leigh Ann Davis. line feed character in |title= at position 31 (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Psychological disturbance associated with sexual abuse in people with learning disabilities. Case-control study. / Sequeira, H; Howlin, P; Hollins, S. In: British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 183, No. NOV., 11.2003, p. 451 - 456.
  14. Ryan, Ruth. “Physician Unwitting Participation in Abuse and Neglect of Persons with Developmental DisabilitiesPhysician Unwitting Participation in Abuse and Neglect of Persons with Developmental Disabilities.” Community Mental Health Journal 36.6 (2001): 499-509. Proquest Central. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.
  15. "Sociocultural aspects of albinism in Sub-Saharan Africa: mutilations and ritual murders committed in east Africa (Burundi and Tanzania)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Disability hate crime is 'overlooked and under-reported'". BBC. 2013-03-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "People with Mental Retardation & Sexual Abuse". The Awareness Center.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Baumhoefner, Arlen Financial Abuse of the Deaf And Hard of Hearing Exposed (2006)
  • Fitzsimons, Nancy M. & Sobsey, Dick Combating Violence & Abuse of People With Disabilities: A Call to Action (2009)


  1. Paul Harpur and Heather Douglas, ‘Disability and Domestic Violence: Protecting Survivors’ Human Rights’ (2014) 23 Griffith Law Review 3, 405-433