Fundamental questions about abuse of people with disabilities remain unanswered. These questions range from determining how many people with disabilities experience various crimes to understanding how rates of abuse vary by disability type to how many survivors with disabilities report abuse to law enforcement and what happens after reports are made. These gaps in knowledge make it difficult for policymakers and practitioners to craft effective prevention and intervention approaches for people with disabilities and create a pressing need for more research to be conducted in this area.
The Benefits of Research and Evaluation
Research and evaluation are essential tools to ending abuse of people with disabilities. Policymakers and practitioners working to address abuse of people with disabilities can use the information gleaned from these activities to:
- Allocate limited resources to areas with the greatest unmet needs, such as certain groups of people with specific disabilities, groups of people with disabilities experiencing certain crimes, or specific geographic communities.
- Customize programs and services to meet specific gaps in services or unmet needs of survivors with disabilities.
- Learn how people with disabilities are affected by efforts to curb abuse and promote safety and healing.
- Determine what works, what doesn’t, and promote evidence-based practices for preventing and ending abuse of people with disabilities.
Strategies to Increase Data on Abuse of People with Disabilities
Collect Statistical Information on Survivors with Disabilities
Disability and victim services organizations routinely collect basic information about the people who contact them for help and the people they ultimately serve, and similar information is collected on the victims and offenders involved at various points in the criminal justice system. Few entities across the country, though, collect information on survivors with disabilities. Gathering data about the victimization experiences of the people served by disability organizations and the disability status of people who come in contact with victim services and law enforcement, like other diversity data, is essential to understanding these survivors’ needs and planning services to meet them. In addition, this information can be used to identify disparities in service use and justice system experiences and to develop benchmarks for reducing those disparities. Importantly, this information must be collected using safe and confidential strategies to avoid re-traumatizing victims.
Enhance Existing Data Collection Surveys
There is little systematic data surveillance providing national, state, or local information on crime victimization of people with disabilities and Deaf people. National and state data, such as the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), and surveys, such as the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), record some information on disability status, but none are consistent with one another and omit important information. To fully capture the experiences of these populations, surveys should implement standardized definitions of disabilities and measurement categories. Additionally, information on when and where victimization occurred and information on the victim’s relationship to the perpetrator would provide useful information in understanding victimization trends. Finally, people with disabilities, and particularly Deaf individuals and others who communicate using assistive technology, will never be fully represented when surveys are only offered by telephone.
Promote a Research Agenda
Researchers and practitioners in the fields of criminal justice, victimization, and disability should work together to create a long-term research agenda focusing on crime victims with disabilities. More research in the following three priority areas is required: (1) incidence and prevalence of domestic and sexual violence against people with disabilities; (2) utilization of victim services and criminal justice system interventions by people with disabilities and their satisfaction levels; and (3) evaluations of strategies aimed at preventing abuse of people with disabilities and intervening when abuse happens. Additionally, work is needed to determine the best methodologies for this research to ensure studies are accessible to the widest array of people with disabilities and safe for those who have experienced abuse.
Resources You Can Use
- Evaluating Organizations Capacity to Serve Survivors with Disabilities. Based on more than 10 years of experience working at the intersection of violence and disability,Vera‘s Center on Victimization and Safety developed a practical tool to meet the growing need for straightforward and cost-effective ways for disability organizations, domestic violence programs, rape crisis centers, and programs that address domestic and sexual violence to track their progress in serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence who have disabilities. Using performance indicators, this one-of-a-kind resource helps practitioners measure their organizations against field standards for serving survivors with disabilities, allowing them to capture point-in-time snapshots of their agency’s overall commitment and capacity in this area. It is also designed to help practitioners track progress towards specific goals and refine their capacity-building efforts to better meet those goals if used over time. These guides draw upon data and resources that these organizations typically have access to, without requiring previous knowledge of statistics or evaluation methods, and provide step-by-step information on implementation, including how to collect, analyze, and interpret data.
- National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS). This reference service provides quick access to numerous topics, including disability, domestic violence, and sexual assault, and links to research on evidence-based practices housed on CrimeSolutions.gov.
- VetoViolence. This site, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides tools, training, and research on child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence. Not only can you access basic prevalence information through this site, you can access two great evaluation resources, EvaluACTION and Understanding Evidence.
- VAWnet Resource Library. The VAWnet National Online Resource Center is home to thousands of materials on violence against women and related issues, including research and evaluation resources and materials. The research section features the Domestic Violence Evidence Project and contains numerous materials related to domestic and sexual violence including applied research documents, data sets, research and evaluation tools, fact sheets, research reports, other publications that provide an analysis, and critiques and/or reviews of current related issues.