Friday, September 13, 2013

Abuse of People with Disabilities - Victims and Families Speak Out (U.S. Report)

“Violence against persons with disabilities is a frequently unrecognized and under reported problem that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.” (From the Website of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell - Founder of Hope Australia and VP of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International

Many reports, surveys and commentaries find their way into my inbox on a daily basis. I guess it's common for commentators on any issue to have to sift through the subject matter and decide what should be noted, what should be commented on and what needs to be left alone because of time constraints.

This report from the US Spectrum Institute didn't fit any of those categories - it jumped out and demanded attention!

The report: Abuse of People with Disabilities Victims and Their Families Speak Out - A Report on the 2012 National Survey on Abuse of People with Disabilities is a shocking indictment on the treatment of people with disability in a first-world, 21st century nation like America. However, I wonder if the scale of the problem isn't common in much of the Western World.

The report says that: 
Some 7,289 people took the online survey during May through October 2012. Respondents lived in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Most of the respondents had a direct connection with the disability experience, either having a disability themselves (20.2%) or having an immediate family member with a disability (47.4%).
Some 2,560 respondents (35%) answered “yes” to the following question: “Have you or your family member with a disability ever experienced abuse?”
These respondents were viewed as the “victim community” and a data set was specifically created for them.
And went on to summarize that, "Nearly half of victims with disabilities did not report abuse to authorities. Most thought it would be futile to do so. For those who did report abuse, nearly 54% said that nothing happened. In fewer than 10% of reported cases was the perpetrator arrested."

Some of the key findings:
1. Over 70% of people with disabilities who took the survey reported they had been victims of abuse. 
2. More than 63% of parents and immediate family members reported that their loved one with a disability had experienced abuse. 
3. Some disability types had a higher incidence of abuse than others. For example, 74.8% of people with mental health conditions reported they had been victims of abuse, while 67.1% of those with a speech disability, 66.5% of those with autism, 62.5% of those with an intellectual or developmental disability, and 55.2% of those with a mobility disability reported having experienced such abuse. 
13. People with disabilities who were victims cited futility, fear, and lack of information as reasons for not reporting. Some 58% believed that nothing would happen; 38% had been threatened or were afraid; 33% did not know how or where to report. 
17. More than 73% of people with disabilities who took the survey reported they had been victims of bullying. Most of these victims had experienced bullying on multiple occasions, with 38% saying that their victimization had lasted for years on end. 
18. People with autism and people with mental health conditions were victims of bullying at a significantly higher rate than people with other types of disabilities. The following are the rates of bullying reported by various disability communities (pwd and families): autism (77%), mental health (74.7%), speech (66.8%), I/DD (64.3%), and mobility (55%).
The report goes on to make suggestions to people with disabilities and their families, as well as agencies in how to go about reducing the risk. Wise words:
The first step in risk reduction is to acknowledge that abuse does occur to children and adults with disabilities. If you have a disability, admit that someone may take advantage of you or hurt you – emotionally, physically, sexually, or financially.
If you have a family member with a disability, as hard as it may be to think about this, admit it – someone may abuse your loved one. If you are a provider of services to people with disabilities, you need to be aware that someone associated with your company or agency may abuse a client.
The next step in risk reduction is to know who likely perpetrators might be. A person with a disability is more likely to be abused by a family member or someone in their daily routine than they are by a complete stranger.
Perpetrators are often predators who misuse a position of trust or take advantage of a victim with actual or perceived vulnerabilities. 
It struck me immediately how similar this abuse pattern is to Elder Abuse, which is also reaching epidemic proportions in the West. Abuse by a family member or carer; abuse by someone in a position of trust; perceived futility or fear of reporting. It's a similar story.

When the report talks about a 'victim community' of people with 'actual or perceived vulnerabilities' we understand what they mean; and we're left to ponder how and why this can happen. We cannot simply think of freedom, autonomy and self-actualization without also thinking of those for whom such lofty and noble pursuits require extra care, vigilance, support and encouragement. As Thomas Jefferson said: The Price of Freedom is eternal vigilance; we must remember, always, that a truly just society can be recognised by the way it cares for vulnerable people.

Certainly, in answer to the begging question; this report as well as the phenomenon that is Elder Abuse are compelling reason why we should never legalise euthanasia & assisted suicide. Every valid parliamentary inquiry has made this point and it is unfortunately truer now than perhaps ever before.

And in case any reader is inclined to the thought that I'm simply using this report on human tragedy to further the argument against euthanasia you'd be wrong. This is personal, very personal. That's why the thought of abandoning vulnerable people through euthanasia legislation infuriates me so. Anne and I know that our son will always need support and we do worry for his future - but the thought of the state putting him at risk - no matter how small, would be unbearable.

That's why when I hear those who advocate for euthanasia spouting the autonomy line, "I want the right to choose" I genuinely wonder whether they've ever considered anyone else. Get over it! As the great English poet, John Donne noted, like it or not, our lives are intertwined:
Joseph Russell with
Tony Abbott
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee

You can download the full report:  Abuse of People with Disabilities Victims and Their Families Speak Out HERE:

You can help the work of HOPE by joining the HOPE network by clicking HERE.

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