Workshop Addresses Abuse of People with Disabilities

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People with disabilities experience violent victimization at alarming rates—making them one of the most harmed groups in our country. These crimes, however, are not widely reported or addressed, and survivors are often unable to access appropriate supports and services.  In an effort to address this hidden epidemic, we need to work to bridge the silos between disability serving providers and victim service organizations and to begin a community conversation on the issue.

Recently, FISA Foundation sponsored a workshop with Nancy Smith, Director of the Center for Safety and Victimization at the Vera Institute of Justice. As one of the leading experts in the field, Ms. Smith shared some of the most recent national data (2012) available on the staggering numbers of violent crimes against people with disabilities. Consider these statistics:

  • There are 1.3 million violent crimes against people with disabilities per year –or more than 3500 per day. (1)
  • People with disabilities are three times more likely to experience violent crimes compared to people without disabilities. (1)
  • Compared to other children, children with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual abuse; and children with intellectual disabilities are five times more likely to experience sexual abuse. (2)
  • 27% of women with disabilities have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes and 49% of people with intellectual disabilities will experience sexual assault 10 or more times in their lifetimes. (3) (4)

The workshop was attended by a diverse group of disability-service providers, deaf-service providers, self-advocates and victim-service providers. In addition to sharing these alarming trends, Ms. Smith also explained the “terrible storm” of factors that align allowing this abuse to occur, the barriers that people with disabilities experience when seeking services and supports, and the importance of building collaborations between victim service organizations and disability service providers. The group also brainstormed the next steps our community can take to address and prevent these crimes.

To learn more and find out how you can get involved, visit the Vera Institute’s Center on Victimization and Safety.



1.) Harrell, E. (2015). Crimes against persons with disabilities, 2009–2013 – statistical tables. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. NCJ 248676.

2.) Sullivan, P.M., & Knuston, J.F. (2000). Maltreatment and disabilities: A population-based epidemiological study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 1257-1273.

3.) Mitra, M., Mouradian, V.E., & Diamond, M. (2011). Sexual violence victimization against men with disabilities. Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41, 494-497.

4.) Sobsey, D., and Doe, T. (1991). Patterns of Sexual Abuse and Assault. Sexuality and Disability, 9, 243-259.

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