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New report: Disabled people targeted by violence at high rates

by Elliot Oberholtzer, July 18, 2017

A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) sheds light on the treatment of disabled people in our society. This report, which compiles nationally representative data from 2011-2015 based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, shows that disabled people experience violent victimization at over twice the rate of people without disabilities. (On average 32 per 1,000 disabled people experience violent victimization annually, compared to 13 per 1,000 non-disabled people.)

Key findings include:

  • Disabled people experience significantly higher rates of rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault than non-disabled people.
  • Disabled youth ages 12-15 are victims of violent crime at over four times the rate of their non-disabled peers: 144 out of every 1,000 disabled youth experiences violent victimization each year.
  • 40% of the violence against disabled people was committed by someone they knew, and 10% of that was by a relative (not including romantic partners). Both of these numbers are significantly higher than for non-disabled people, who are more often victimized by a stranger.
  • 16% of violent crime victims with disabilities believed they were targeted due to their disability. (For more details see the BJS Hate Crime Victimization Report.)

Disabled people, particularly disabled youth, are often in the position of needing to rely on the people around them for support and to accomplish necessary tasks. As this data suggests, the position of power that non-disabled people have over the disabled people around them can lead to victimization and abuse.

The difference between disabled and non-disabled rates of violent victimization may be even more stark than this data suggests, because this data does not include institutionalized disabled people (including those in jails, prisons, residential care facilities, and assisted living facilities). Roughly 95% of people 65 and older in elder care institutions report at least one disability, and people in state and federal prisons are nearly three times as likely to report having a disability, both major populations that this study does not include.

The Human Rights Watch suggests that use of force abuses against disabled people in prisons is “widespread and may be increasing”. Ongoing studies of police violence also suggest that disabled people are a disproportionate percentage of those killed by police. Though this new study is an important addition, the picture of societal violence against disabled people is far from complete.

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