Recently, I read for what seemed the thousandth time another news article about a person with a disability being abused. This time it was a brain damaged child molested while under the “care” of a California health professional.
To learn why these stories seem like an epidemic, I telephoned Dave Reynolds, who owns Inclusion Daily Express, an Internet-based disability news service. “I see stories like this daily, sometimes a couple times a day,” said 47-year-old Reynolds, referring to news articles involving people with disabilities and physical, sexual and/or mental abuse.
The amount of published stories could be the tip of an iceberg, he suggested. Many people with disabilities won’t report abuse because they have been physically threatened. Others fear losing their housing (and having to move), not being believed, or losing money and/or personal caregivers. Others aren’t able to communicate the abuse or stop a perpetrator.
In some states, unbelievably, an “incompetent” person with mental retardation isn’t allowed to press charges against an abuser. In those states, Reynolds said it’s “open season” for abuse.
In many jurisdictions, the accuser must face the alleged perpetrator in court. “If having to face the person abusing them, in a courtroom with a judge, jury and audience, for many people with disabilities that can bring on anxiety and confusion,” said Reynolds. “They often aren’t able to talk coherently in those situations. Add to that their stress of facing cross examination and of (having a cognitive disability and) trying to understand the attorney’s questions.”
Added Reynolds, “From what I read and compile, few of these incidents of abuse get reported to anyone, only a few of those are reported to police, few of those are taken seriously enough by the police, and only a fraction end in arrest, trial, and conviction. Only a fraction of those convicted receive jail time.”
Reynolds believes abuse can be reduced. He said many incidents come to light only when a person with a disability becomes more active in community life and teachers, employers or neighbors begin advocating on their behalf.