The first national study on crime against people with disabilities has been released by the Justice Department, and it shows that people with disabilities (PWD) are the victims of violent crimes at approximately 1.5 times the rate of temporarily able-bodied people. NPR reports:
The results, just released by the Justice Department, are disturbing. But they come as no surprise to those who work with people with disabilities. For a long time, they’ve known about this particular crime problem, at least anecdotally.
But what people in the field had long known, and what the Justice Department report confirms, is that crime is a daily fact of life for many people with disabilities and most of it never gets public attention.
The study, by Michael Rand and Erika Harrell of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that, in 2007, people with disabilities were victims of 716,000 violent crimes and 2.3 million property crimes.
Disabled women were the most at risk: They were victims at rates almost twice that for other females. And unlike other women, those with disabilities were far more likely to be victimized by people they weren’t close to. The report found that 16 percent of violent crimes against females with a disability were committed by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. Among women without disabilities, it was 27 percent.
The study also shows that assailants are most likely to victimize people with cognitive disabilities, and people with multiple disabilities (a person with more than one disability was the victim in more than half of all violent crimes committed against PWD).
On the subject of violence against women specifically, while attacks by intimate partners make up a smaller percentage of violent crimes against women with disabilities than those against able-bodied women, previous studies also show that caretakers are the most common perpetrators of sexual violence in cases where women with disabilities are victims, followed by male family members. Thus, unless things have changed dramatically in recent years, the statement that “those with disabilities were far more likely to be victimized by people they weren’t close to” is likely not true, but rather it’s more commonly different relationships that are being violated.
The fact that these crimes so rarely make the news — and that when they do, they are presented as some sort of abnormality rather than a systematic problem — has to be noted a sizable part of the reason for their prevalence. Silence helps abuse to continue, and abusers are most like to choose victims who a) they believe will stay silent or b) they believe will be silenced if/when the abuse is reported. Able-bodied society has erected many barriers to PWD speaking out about abuse, which are heavily connected to wider forms of ableist oppression, and Lauredhel discusses some of the most common ones here. Violent criminals quite logically utilize the abusive systems we already have in place to their greatest advantage. And this we should already know.
Our society rarely likes to acknowledge and address issues of systematic prejudice and violence — indeed, such systems are created because those privileged in them have something to gain — and so these cases, the perpetrators, and the victims are frequently overlooked. That this is being billed as the first ever national study of crime against PWD alone tells us that. Acknowledging the violence surrounding us might force more people to realize that these high rates of violence exist for a reason, and that just like with any other marginalized group that is routinely victimized by others, it has nothing to do with PWD being inherently easy or vulnerable targets. Rather, it has everything to do with how a society structured around the needs and perspectives of able-bodied people marginalize and isolate people with disabilities and otherwise treat them as lesser human beings, unworthy of rights, safety and protection. Such a society only aides and encourages perpetrators of violence.
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