Across the board, children with disabilities are at a higher risk of all forms of abuse when compared to non-disabled children. This abuse can happen at home, by family or family-friends, or at school, by teachers and other caretakers. It is tragic that those already disadvantaged by the way our society treats ability and disability face a higher probability of being abused, and thus it is critical that we examine why this is the case and how we can stop this trend.
There are a number of reasons that may explain why disabled children are more frequently abused. Parents and other adults who care for disabled children are often under higher stress due to the unique requirements of raising a child with a disability. Some parents who cannot properly manage their stress may lash out against their own children, physically abusing them out of frustration.
Additionally, as disabled children are often even more reliant on their caregivers than children in general, they are at higher risk of abuse or neglect as there are more opportunities for abuse or neglect. For example, a child who cannot easily take food from the refrigerator due to their cerebral palsy is more dependant on their mother for meals than a child who can acquire a snack from the fridge. Thus, there is more opportunity for neglect.
Thirdly, disabilities make it harder for children to reach out for help, making them more vulnerable victims for those who may seek to abuse children. In an example given by the CDC, children with hearing or speaking problems may be more likely to be sexually abused because they are less likely to be able to resist and inform others about their experience.
As there are so many different adults who collectively care for any one child with disabilities, one may ask if the adults who are not directly abusing the child are possibly complicit in the abuse conducted by one of their own. In other words, are these other adults somehow involved with the wrongdoing perpetrated by one of the child’s caretakers? I would argue that these adults are only really complicit if they see signs of abuse and do nothing to investigate them. For example, according to the CDC, signs of abuse could include unexplained cuts and bruises, complaints about the genitals, and constant hunger or thirst. While all children require adult advocates, this is especially true for disabled children, who face additional struggle and stigma as a result of their conditions. Thus, it is critical that parents, teachers, and caretakers speak up if they see signs of abuse that may be coming from some other adults that make up the childcare team. If they choose to remain silent, however, then they are shielding the perpetrator and are undoubtedly complicit in the tragedy that is abuse committed against children with disabilities.