Children with Disabilities and Vulnerability to Abuse


On the webpage Disabled Children and Abuse, David Miller reports that children living with disabilities are more likely to be abused. In fact, Miller provides the following facts:Disabled children are at greater risk of abuse than non-disabled children.Available international research indicates that disabled children across the range of impairments are at significantly greater risk of all forms of abuse than non-disabled children.From an analysis of over 40,000 children in an American city, Sullivan and Knutson (2000) found that disabled children were 3.4 times more likely to be abused or neglected. They were 3.8 times more likely to be neglected; 3.8 times more likely to be physically abused; 3.1 times more likely to be sexually abused and 3.9 more likely to be emotionally abused. Overall, 31% of the total disabled children in this research had been abused. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services verifies this link between disability and abuse, stating: “Although the studies found a wide range of abuse prevalence, when taken as a whole, they provide consistent evidence that there is a link between children with disabilities and abuse (Sobsey, 1994)."

In fact, the article states that one in three children with an identified disability for which they receive special education services are victims of some type of maltreatment compared to one in 10 nondisabled children.

So why are children with disabilities more likely to be abused?

The US Department of Health and Human Services website states: “According to researchers, disability can act to increase vulnerability to abuse (often indirectly as a function of society’s response to disability rather than the disability in itself being the cause of abuse). For example, adults may decide against making any formal reports of abuse because of the child’s disability status, making the abuse of those with disabilities easier for the abuser (Sullivan, 2003). Parents fear if they report abuse occurring in the group home, they may be forced to take their child out of the home with few options for other safe living arrangements. Often the abusers are parents or other close caregivers who keep the abuse secret and do not report out of fear of legal and other ramifications.”

In addition, the website explains, for a number of reasons, children with disabilities may be less likely to report abuse when it does happen. Those reasons may include:

  • The child does not understand what abuse is or what acts constitute abuse
  • There may be communication problems inherent in the disability
  • Those with limited speaking abilities may have no way to report abuse
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