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It is a sad truth that disabled people are mistreated, sometimes by the very people who help them, but our churches can be places of safety and support.

As church communities, we can be a support to individuals with disabilities in finding help if they are experiencing abuse. The first step to offering help is to become aware of the realities.

Addressing Abuse of Disabled Adults is a three-minute video geared to service providers, caregivers and families on recognizing and responding to abuse, ways to help, and resources. It helps us understand the unique safety issues faced by friends or members of our church family who live with disabilities.

The video discusses the different kinds of abuse that can occur:

  • Verbal abuse: threats, insults, name-calling, belittling comments
  • Physical abuse: being kicked, pushed or handled roughly
  • Financial abuse: theft of credit cards, medication or other personal belongings
  • Neglect: withholding of medication or ignoring a person’s needs
  • Sexual abuse: being touched in ways that are uncomfortable or being forced to do sexual acts

The video notes that abuse of individuals with disabilities is usually about power and control. For example, is a person with a disability told what they can do, where they can go? Are they isolated from family and friends? The video talks about the challenges of deciding when and where to intervene. In the end, it involves balancing safety risks with the rights and autonomy of individuals. This can be challenging and confusing, especially for caregivers, but it is important that the right balance be struck.

The video outlines some suggestions for attaining that balance:

  • Respect the individual’s right to autonomy and self-direction
  • Assess the individual’s safety and decision-making about their own care and well-being
  • Create a safe and confidential space for the person
  • Listen and believe when the person says he or she has been hurt
  • Validate a person’s feelings and strengths
  • Together, brainstorm ideas and resources
  • If a person resists the help he or she really needs, check your concerns with other professionals familiar with issues of disability
  • If there is concern for immediate physical safety or survival, you may need to
    call the police or 911 or adult protective services without the person’s consent
  • Be familiar with the laws about mandated reporting of abuse

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