Child/Adult Abuse & Neglect Disability Outreach Project (CAN
Arc Riverside Abuse Projects Division
2100 Sawtelle Blvd. #302, Los Angeles,
Phone: (310) 473 6768 STS/TTY: Use Relay System FAX: (310) 996
How does abuse effect
individuals with disabilities,
including Deaf and Hard of Hearing children and adults?
Children and adults with all types of
disability experience abuse at rates far exceeding those of the population
who do not have disabilities. Although research is not extensive, what we
have learned about abuse of children and adults with disabilities is
alarming. In addition, there are many situations in which children and
adults acquire disabilities as a direct result of abuse.
Children with disabilities are abused 3.4 times more often than other
children. Boystown University Hospital conducted a study to identify
prevalence of disabilities among maltreated versus nonmaltreated children.
Researchers merged over 39,000 hospital records from 1982 to 1992 with the
social service central registry, the foster care review board and police
records for both intra and extra familial maltreatment. This merger resulted
in 6,000 matches, an overall maltreatment prevalence rate of 15 percent,
with 64% having an identified disability. Obviously, this is much higher
than the 15-20% prevalence rate of individuals with disabilities in the
population. Published in 2000, the study found of maltreated children the
following disability identifications:
Behavior disorders 38%
Speech/language disorders 9%
Mental retardation 6%
Hearing impairment 6%
Learning disability 6%
Other disabilities 4%
Health impairments 2%
ADD (w/o behavior disorder) 2%
One might think that many of the “behavior
disorders” were a result of having been abused, not a precursor.
In a related study, these researchers examined the records of public and
parochial school children and matched these with the child abuse registry.
31% of the children with an identified disability had records of
maltreatment in either social services or police agencies.
The relative risk for maltreatment among children with disabilities was
found to be three times that of other children. There was a strong
association between disabilities & neglect, with children with disabilities
being four times more likely to be victims than other children.
Children with behavior disorders and mental disabilities were significantly
more likely to be neglected.
Adults with physical disabilities are abused at about the same rate as the
general population, yet the abuse is more extensive and long lasting. Adults
with other types of disability, including intellectual disabilities, are
abused approximately 7 times more frequently than others.
However, disclosure rates of the abuse is believed to be less than that of
the general population. Complicating the issues are the facts that response
systems (child and adult protection services, law enforcement, victims
services) are not prepared, for the most part, to offer their services to
individuals with disabilities. Efforts are being made by small agencies
around the country to remedy this problem.
Finally, the problems of acquiring disabilities as a result of abuse or
crimes is not given the attention needed. Many individuals, as an outcome of
domestic violence, retain hearing problems (deaf/Hard of Hearing) and
Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) as most assaults are aimed at the victim’s head.
Problems of vision loss and spinal cord injuries are the result of these and
similar crimes. Later onset of disability through victimization or illness
requires the individual to make additional adjustments to those demanded by
the cause, including psychological, social, emotional, economic, vocational
and family changes.
There are only 2 main programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing abuse victims.
One is run by Marilyn Smith in the State of Washington, who has been
successful in replicating her program in agencies around the country. Her
program provides victims services and counseling support to Deaf and Hard of
Hearing women by deaf and hard of hearing staff. Another program in Austin
Texas run by Mary Wambach is a similar program for victims of Domestic
In Los Angeles, CA, there is a child abuse council for children with
disabilities and a separate council for D/deaf children.
The Arc of Riverside’s CAN DO project provides a listserv where members can
share information, get answers to personal and professional questions about
abuse, receive training and have access to resources including a “living”
bibliography of articles, videos, curricula, books, and links to other
resources. Arc Riverside hosts an online conference for those wishing to
learn more (and receive CEU’s for attorneys, social workers and other
health/mental health professionals, among others). Arc Riverside also hosts
the only ongoing national/international face to fact conference on abuse &
disability. Visit their website for tapes, DVD’s and other materials from
prior conferences, the most recent is the 10th National/3rd International
Conference March 14-16, 2005.