Physical and Verbal Abuse

Sexual abuse and physical abuse of the disabled can be difficult to separate because they often occur together. A person may be considered physically abused if he or she has been hit, kicked, tripped, slapped, beaten, punched, intentionally burned or physically injured in some way by inappropriate or harsh discipline. The abuser may also just ‘enjoy’ inflicting pain brought on by their own lack of self-worth.

Abuse of the disabled is now considered a hate crime if it can be shown the offender was motivated by bias or hostility toward someone because of actual or perceived traits they possess.

According to Disability Rights Ohio, a Columbus-based organization that advocates for the disabled, a person can also be considered physically abused if they are over or under-medicated, forced to take medicine without consent (except in an emergency), or if restraint or sedation is used (usually in a psychiatric hospital setting) when there is no immediate danger to oneself or others.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse

Verbal abuse and emotional abuse can occur when the words or actions of one person cause fear or breakdown of self-esteem in another person. This can happen when the abuser terrorizes, intimidates, makes fun of, ignores, threatens, coerces, rejects or harasses another person. It can happen when the right to make decisions is violated or the person loses his or her privacy.

The Disability and Abuse Project, which surveyed more than 7,200 handicapped persons, their family members, advocates, providers and other professionals in 2012, found 7 of 10 developmentally and physically disabled persons had been physically and sexually assaulted, neglected or physically abused in some way. Ninety percent of those reported multiple occurrences. Verbal or emotional abuse was reported by 87.2% of the victims.

Reports of Physical Abuse Go Unsubstantiated

According to the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, there were 373 cases involving physical abuse of the disabled across the state in 2012. More than 8,600 reports of physical abuse were received from a state reporting system for 2009 to 2014, according to The Columbus Dispatch, but only 27 percent were substantiated by the Ohio DODD.

In breaking down types of abuse, the Disability & Abuse Project said victims reported physical abuse in 50.6% of cases. The survey indicated 40% of victims of physical abuse did not report the abuse to authorities. It is speculated that some disabled persons do not report abuse because they are afraid. Their attackers may be family members or caregivers whom they rely on for their daily care and/or their economic survival. When reports about the abuse were filed, fewer than 10% of alleged perpetrators were arrested.

Sometimes the abuse is in the form of something that is withheld from the disabled person. A caregiver may withhold medicine or assistive devices such as a wheelchair or braces, or they might refuse to help the disabled person with daily needs like getting dressed or taking a bath.

The Office on Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that women with disabilities are more likely to suffer from domestic violence than the general population. When they are assaulted in this manner, their attacks last longer and are more intense, HHS disclosed.

How To Handle Suspicion of Abuse

Anyone who has observed or suspects abuse of a disabled person in Ohio should notify law enforcement or the county board of developmental disabilities. If you do not know how to reach the county board, go to the website and look for the list of Ohio counties and phone numbers to report abuse.

Be prepared to provide the name, address and age of the victim as well as the name of the custodian of that individual, if known; the nature and extent of the alleged abuse; and the basis of the reporting person’s belief that the adult has been abused. (These criteria also apply to reporting neglect and exploitation.)

A DODD Abuse/Neglect Hotline is also available at 866-313-6733. If an emergency exists, DODD is required by state law to initiate an investigation within 24 hours of receiving the report. Otherwise, it has three working days to initiate the investigation and give a written report of its findings whether or not the adult who is the subject of the report is in need of protective services.


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