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An Overlooked Epidemic: Crimes Against People with Disabilities

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July 9, 2007

People with developmental disabilities are at a much higher risk of being victims of crime. According to national data, women with developmental disabilities are at a 4 to 10 times greater risk of sexual assault than women in general, and kids with disabilities have a 68 percent higher risk of maltreatment. Christine White of Dane County is a legal advocate for people with developmental disabilities; she says abuse is all too common for them.

“If you ask somebody straight-out about abuse issues, it's pretty stunning how many people can tell me stuff that's happened to them. It's a rare person that hasn't had some kind of abuse happen to them.”

She notes that crimes against people with developmental disabilities have historically been under-reported, but she adds that there is a growing effort both locally and around the nation to report more of those crimes to the criminal justice system, and do a better job collecting crime data related to people with disabilities.

White believes things are starting to turn around.

“We're reporting it to the criminal justice system just as is it would for you or I if we were sexually assaulted or battered or financially abused.”

White emphasizes in addition to reporting and prosecuting these crimes, it's important to teach people with cognitive disabilities what is and isn't abuse, and encourage them to report abuse when it happens. She believes it's vital that caregivers and family members listen to them.

“I think some of that starts in the family home and in the school system. [We need to be giving them] good sexuality information and teaching people that they can say 'no' and having that be respected in all areas of their life.”

Rob Ferrett/Eric Mack, Public News Service - WI