The abuse of disabled people is a hidden crime we must face up to

‘The uncomfortable truth is that being disabled makes someone vulnerable to abuse.’ Photograph: Imagewerks/Getty Images/Imagewerks Japan

Almost 5,000 disabled adults have been sexually abused in England in the past two years. With cuts to services biting, more must be done to protect them


Almost 5,000 disabled adults – across 106 councils – have been sexually abused in England in the past two years, new figures show. As the NSPCC put it, this is the “visible peak” of what could be a bigger problem of sexual assault against disabled people. People with learning difficulties were the victims of almost two-thirds of reported incidents. The others had a range of physical disabilities. Disabled children are also likely victims.

The charity Respond noted they had seen “some horrendous cases” involving young disabled people. “[There are] gangs of boys who don’t have a disability who are grooming girls who do.” Your stomach may be starting to crawl at this point. Mine is. I think most of us would put the rape and assault of people with disabilities into the category of things we do not want to think about – let alone say out loud. But then, that is part of the problem. Hush it up. Ignore the warnings. Some things should not be real.

Here’s the reality. Today’s finding of sexual assault against disabled adults – and likely, teenagers and children – is part of the large-scale abuse of disabled people in this country. Disabled children and young people are three to four times more likely to be abused and neglected than their non-disabled peers, according to the NSPCC.

Disabled women are twice as likely to be assaulted or raped as non-disabled women – be it at the hands of a stranger or, more likely, their partner, a family member or the person they have trusted to care for them. According to research by Women’s Aid, half of disabled women – and yes, this is often a gendered crime – have experienced domestic abuse.

I don’t describe disabled people – including myself – as “vulnerable”. It’s generally a patronising, pitying sort of comment. It also homogenises a vast, complex group: anyone from a 56-year-old woman who uses a wheelchair to a teenage boy with Down’s syndrome. But the uncomfortable truth is that being disabled makes someone vulnerable to abuse: whether that is because a severelearning disability means a victim cannot understand what is happening to them, or because a spinal injury means a woman who is being assaulted cannot sit up.

To an abuser who likes power and control, a disability is perfect. It is easier to rape or slap someone who cannot move. Women’s Aid refer to cases where abusers have withheld their girlfriend’s medicine or deliberately refused to help them get to the toilet. Vulnerability comes in trying to leave too. Escaping abuse is difficult for any victim but it’s only compounded when the person abusing you is the one you rely on to help you dress and get out the house. Cultural stigma around disability is as much of a trap – the belief that disabled people are sexless or stupid.

Carers, meanwhile, are often perceived as saints. As Dr Jackie Barron from Women’s Aid described it to me when I previously reported on this subject: “You often hear: ‘Oh, he seems such a nice man’ [when women discloses abuse]. This seems to be even more the case for disabled women. ‘This man is providing care. He’s giving up his life’ … It can mean they’re much less likely to be believed.”

Even if they are believed, a deficit in specialist services means disabled victims often have nowhere to escape to. It may be from a paper who campaigned for the party who made the cuts in the first place but today’s Sun front page is right: refuges are at crisis point. For disabled victims, that crisis has been in place for a while. Beverley Lewis House is this country’s only specialist refuge for women with a learning disability. DeafHope UK is one of the only organisations designed to help physically disabled survivors of domestic violence…




One thought on “The abuse of disabled people is a hidden crime we must face up to

  1. On the other side disabled are physically and mentally abused on a daily basis by the UK government. Declared “fit for work” on a whim, they are forced to find work where there is none for them and they also have to attend series of “interviews” or whatever the job centers dream up. Most of which is impossible to achieve even for fit people.

    A lot of disabled will fail to meet these incessant demands through sickness, physical or mental inability, or just plain mental anguish.
    Their reward for failure? Loss of social help, benefits, everything.
    That’s called being sanctioned. In real life it’s more like a death sentence for some and a few have already died because of this. Only where is that to be found in the newspapers and media?
    I wonder at what point (if at all) will the death toll of the sick and disabled will be considered worthy of public outrage.

    The devil in charge of this carnage is the same politicians that were just reelected for another 5 years by the ignorance of the UK sheeple. In July the politicians will spell out the depth of their next onslaught on the poor, sick, and disabled.

    Will anyone speak up for them then, will the media?


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