Breaking the Silence

Webcast panelists address issues of crime toward persons with disabilities

On May 30, 2007, an online panel discussion, Breaking the Silence About Crime Victims with Disabilities, took place. This webcast featured panelists Ollie Cantos from the U. S. Dept of Justice, John Vaughn from the National Council on Disability, Mary Lou Leary from Crime Victims Association, and Beverly Frantz from the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). After the event, three of the panelists made themselves available for questions.

Has there been an Increase in the Number and Frequency of Crimes Against People with Disabilities?

Bev Franz: The prevalence of crimes committed against people with disabilities is difficult to calculate because there is no uniform system for collecting this information. From the small studies that have been conducted, the figures are consistently higher than for people without disabilities. This is supported by anecdotal information. There are several issues when collecting crime victim statistics and disabilities, such as the term disability is too general, and law enforcement is not required to collect data on whether the victim or alleged offender has a disability. A larger question is, do we want them to? Unless the disability is “visible,” how would the police officer know (e.g., mental health issues, chronic illness)? In fact, police departments are not mandated by law to provide their crime stats to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. However, the UCR reported that in 2005 there were a total of 53 hate/bias-motivation crimes committed against persons with a disability.

Ollie Cantos: In terms of victimization of the population as a whole, each year, for children, senior citizens and dependent adults ages 18-64, the [crime] numbers are 1 million, 2 million, and 5 million respectively. This essentially means that there are more dependent adults (i.e., persons with disabilities) who are abused or neglected than the number of children and senior citizens combined. Especially in cases in which disabilities are severe, perpetrators are most typically known by the victim. In addition, when disabilities are visible, crimes of opportunity are perpetrated, although I am not aware of specific studies that have yet quantified the extent of such crimes to know present rates versus past rates.

What are Government Agencies Doing to Inform People with Disabilities of these Crimes and our Vulnerability?

John Vaughn: The National Council on Disability (NCD) has partnered with AUCD and National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), along with support from the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services, to foster greater public awareness about crime victims with disabilities and to forge a national commitment to better serve this population. For example, on June 19, 2007, NCVC hosted a plenary session entitled “Meeting the Needs of Crime Victims with Disabilities across the Life Span” at its national conference in Washington, D.C.

 

We are also fostering public awareness by informing and educating service organizations, holding public forums (such as webcasts), and dispersing literature and resources to the public and government agencies, to name a few.

Cantos: The Bureau of Justice Statistics is presently compiling data to better track crime victimization, and these initial results are expected to be released in early 2008. This [database] is historic and unprecedented, because never has this [data collection] been done at such a wide scale. The Crime Victims with Disabilities Awareness Act requires collection of data by the federal government in order better to track crimes committed against members of the disability community.

How Can We Better Protect Ourselves from an

Attack or Robbery?

Cantos: As is the case with people without disabilities, the same approaches should be used. It is important in all cases for victims with disabilities to know that abuse, neglect, and other crimes are NEVER the victim’s fault. As obvious as this is to say, there are often situations in which perpetrators have literally said to their victims, “You made me hit you. If you didn’t make me so mad, everything would have been fine.” Society must empower both children and adults with disabilities to know the nature of different crimes and how to reach out for help if in trouble. Then, when people do reach out, victim/witness service programs should be accessible to these folks with disabilities.

Vaughn: Prepare before the crime happens, such as learning personal safety techniques, knowing your rights, and knowing what is a crime. People with disabilities should also be aware of service organizations that are available to help them if a crime occurs. The Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime sponsors a Web site containing a searchable query of local organizations to serve almost any need. http://ovc.ncjrs.org/findvictim services

What are Some Other Online Resources?

Cantos: The best central location is a clearinghouse that has been put together by the University of Wyoming www.wind.uwyo.edu/ResourceGuide Also visit www.disability-abuse.com These collectively will provide you with hundreds of resources, which include materials for crime victims with disabilities and victim/witness service providers alike. Critical information about the civil rights of people with disabilities may be found at a site hosted by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, www.ada.gov

Franz: Other good resources are the National Center for Victims of Crime, www.ncvc.org; the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, Criminal Justice Initiative, http://disabilities.temple.edu; and the National Criminal Justice Resource Center, www.ncjrs.gov

Why Did You All Come Together to Address the Problems of Crime Against People with Disabilities?

Franz: The ultimate goal of the partnership between the three agencies (AUCD, NCVC, and NCD) is to foster greater public awareness about crime victims with disabilities and to forge a national commitment to better serve this particularly vulnerable population.

Cantos: To send a strong and clear message to the community that the crime victimization field is at least spotlighting these issues at a national level—far beyond what people have realized in the past—and to rally all stakeholders to come together collectively to address the many issues faced by crime victims with disabilities. We as a society must continue to bring the needs of crime victims with disabilities and their loved ones out of the shadows and into the light of awareness and action so that we may each do our part to help make things better.

Will there be another webcast like the one that took place on May 30?

Cantos: Yes. Future webcasts will be dedicated to discussing specific aspects of the criminal justice system within a victims’ rights context, so as to give practical solutions to real situations. In other words, this is all just the beginning.