Disabled Kids 4 Times More Likely to Suffer Violence: Study

WEDNESDAY July 11, 2012 -- One in four children with disabilities experiences some form of violence during their lifetime, a new study has found.

In the report, published online July 11 in The Lancet, researchers from the United Kingdom said that the risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect for these children is nearly four times greater than for children who are not disabled.

"The impact of a child's disability on their quality of life is very much dependent on the way other individuals treat them," one of the study authors, Mark Bellis of Liverpool John Moores University in England, said in a journal news release.

"This research establishes that the risk of violence to children with disabilities is routinely three to four times higher than that of nondisabled children. It is the duty of government and civil society to ensure that such victimization is exposed and prevented," Bellis added.

For the study, the investigators examined 17 previous studies involving more than 18,000 children from the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Israel. Most of the children were between the ages of 2 and 18 years.

The analysis revealed that nearly 27 percent of the children with disabilities had suffered some form of violence, including physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect. The study authors noted that lifetime levels of physical violence and sexual violence were high (20 percent and 14 percent, respectively).

The researchers also estimated that children with disabilities are at least three times more likely to be exposed to physical violence and nearly three times more likely to be exposed to sexual violence compared to children without disabilities.

Kids with mental or intellectual deficits are at greater risk for sexual abuse than children with other types of disabilities or no disabilities at all, the authors noted. However, there wasn't enough information to determine the risk for exposure to sexual violence of children with other types of disabilities, they pointed out.

Dr. Etienne Krug, director of the World Health Organization's department of violence and injury prevention and disability, which contributed to the study, commented in the news release: "The results of this review prove that children with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to violence, and their needs have been neglected for far too long. We know that specific strategies exist to prevent violence and mitigate its consequences. We now need to determine if these also work for children with disabilities. An agenda needs to be set for action."

The study authors added that children with disabilities living in developing nations could be at particular risk for exposure to violence.

"Estimates are missing for most regions of the world, particularly low-income and middle-income countries. This is a fundamental gap that needs to be addressed because these countries generally have higher population rates of disability, higher levels of violence and fewer support services than do high-income countries," explained Bellis.

Emily Lund and Jessica Vaughn-Jensen from Texas A&M University, authors of an accompanying comment in The Lancet, concluded in the news release that "researchers need to target under-represented disability groups . . . [to] provide a clear picture of the interactions between the type of disability and risk for violence and maltreatment. Future research should seek to strengthen our knowledge through rigorous studies with diverse populations, both in terms of nationality and type of disability."

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about preventing abuse in children with disabilities.

Posted: July 2012


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