Abuse and vulnerability


Abuse is a significant issue for people with developmental disabilities, and as a group they are regarded as vulnerable people in most jurisdictions. Common types of abuse include:

  • Physical abuse (withholding food, hitting, punching, pushing, etc.)
  • Neglect (withholding help when required, e.g., assistance with personal hygiene)
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse (verbal abuse, shaming and belittling)
  • Constraint and restrictive practices (turning off an electric wheelchair so a person cannot move)
  • Financial abuse (charging unnecessary fees, holding onto pensions, wages, etc.)
  • Legal or civil abuse (restricted access to services)
  • Systemic abuse (denied access to an appropriate service due to perceived support needs)
  • Passive neglect (a caregiver’s failure to provide adequate food, shelter)

Lack of education, lack of self-esteem and self-advocacy skills, lack of understanding of social norms and appropriate behaviour and communication difficulties are strong contributing factors to the high incidence of abuse among this population.

In addition to abuse from people in positions of power, peer abuse is recognised as a significant, if misunderstood, problem. Rates of criminal offending among people with developmental disabilities are also disproportionately high, and it is widely acknowledged that criminal justice systems throughout the world are ill-equipped for the needs of people with developmental disabilities (as both perpetrators and victims of crime).

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