by Audrey Demmitt, RN, VisionAware peer advisor

empty wheelchair in street with woman walking in distance

Crime against people with disabilities, including those with vision loss, is a reality that calls for our attention.

A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) about violent crimes against people with disabilities has been published, and there are some disturbing findings. It presents estimates of nonfatal violent crimes (rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault) against persons aged 12 or older with disabilities. Disabilities are classified by types: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living.

The report details the victimization of persons with and without disabilities living in noninstitutionalized households and provides comparisons by age, sex, race, disability type, and other victim characteristics. It also includes crime characteristics, such as victim-offender relationship, time of a crime, reporting to police, and use of victim services agencies.

Findings are based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) from 2009 to 2014, combined with data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Age adjustment was used to standardize the rate of violence against persons without disabilities to show what the rate would be if persons without disabilities had the same age distribution as persons with disabilities.

For the purpose of this article, methodologies will not be discussed. We will just take a look at some unsettling findings and ask ourselves “What does this mean?” and “What does this mean to me?”

Highlights from the Report

Crime Against People with Vision Disabilities

  • Visual impairment is the only disability category within which women are significantly more likely than men to have been victims of violent crime (especially striking because, among people with and without disabilities, women are typically less likely than men to be victimized). Females (31.9 per 1,000) had a higher rate of total violent victimization than males (22.8 per 1,000). In all other disability groups, victimization rates for males and females were similar.
  • Visual impairment is the only disability category within which people are significantly less likely than people without disabilities to report to the police when they have been the victim of a violent crime.

Crime Against Persons with All Disabilities

  • The rate of serious violent crime for persons with disabilities (12.7 per 1,000) was more than three times the rate for persons without disabilities (3.9 per 1,000) from 2010 to 2014.
  • The age group with the highest victimization rate was the 16- through 19-year-old group followed by 12- through 15-year-old group with no statistically significant difference between the groups.
  • The age group with the lowest victimization rate was the 65 and older group for persons with and without disabilities.
  • For both males and females in 2010 through 2014, the rate of violent victimization was higher for persons with disabilities than for those without disabilities. In the non-disabled population, the rate is higher for males.
  • Persons of two or more races had the highest rates of violent victimization among persons with disabilities (101.4 per 1,000) and without disabilities (30.4 per 1,000).
  • Those persons with cognitive disabilities had the highest rates of total violent crime (56.6 per 1,000), serious violent crime (24.0 per 1,000), and simple assault (32.6 per 1,000) among the disability types measured.
  • A higher percentage of violence against persons with disabilities (40 percent) was committed by persons the victim knew well or who were casual acquaintances than against persons without disabilities (32 percent).
  • Other relatives (including parents, children, and other relatives) accounted for a higher percentage of total violence against persons with disabilities (11 percent) than persons without disabilities (7 percent).
  • Persons with disabilities (59 percent) experienced a higher percentage of total violence during the daytime than persons without disabilities (53 percent).

Being Aware

I live in a relatively safe community and have never feared for my safety or been threatened physically. I have probably erred on the side of being too comfortable with a false sense of security and neglecting personal safety measures. But as a woman who is visually impaired, I wonder sometimes just how vulnerable I am in different situations.

This report has served as a conversation starter among the VisionAware peer advisors and a wake-up call to me personally. It has brought up other related topics like domestic violence and elder abuse among people with disabilities. And it begs the question, “What can we do to protect ourselves from violence and victimization?” Be sure to read stories and articles on these important issues to help increase awareness of the problems and provide strategies and resources to address them. Watch for upcoming posts on personal safety tips, the benefit of taking self-defense classes, and more.

Consider this report and think about your own safety and what you can do to protect yourself.

Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009-2014