Intervention – responding after abuse occurs — is essential. Prevention – taking action before abuse occurs — is critical to ending abuse. Despite its critical role, little attention and few resources are focused on prevention. Each of us can make prevention a priority. It starts with recognizing the following: abuse of people with disabilities is a real problem, reducing risk is a critical component of prevention, and ending abuse is possible when stakeholders take active steps to prevent it.
Steps to Strengthen Prevention
Speaking Up and Speaking Out
Misinformed beliefs and attitudes about people with disabilities as weak, child-like, or “less than” people without disabilities contribute to abuse of people with disabilities. Policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders play a crucial role in changing such attitudes and their negative impacts by speaking up and speaking out whenever people with disabilities are devalued in policy or practice.
Planning for Action Together
Efforts to strengthen prevention need to engage a variety of stakeholders willing to take action: people with disabilities, Deaf individuals, family members, neighbors, communities, school personnel, criminal justice system personnel, practitioners, and policymakers. We need to sit around the same tables, develop a plan, and take action to prevent abuse within very community. No one system, organization, or individual alone has all the answers. Together, stakeholders can identify a prevention focus, develop a prevention plan, and take action to strengthen prevention.
Identifying Both Victim and Offender Risk Factors
Risk reduction efforts need to focus on factors that increase a person’s risk of victimization and factors that cause someone to abuse. Risk reduction plans, for example, that focus only on training victims about personal safety place all the burden to prevent abuse on victims, not the people responsible for the abuse. Identifying both victim and offender risk factors, and targeting prevention efforts specifically to address them, strengthens the impact that prevention plays in ending abuse.
Supporting What’s Effective
Effective prevention efforts are inclusive. They involve people with disabilities and reflect what’s really happening in people’s lives. Effective prevention efforts are also evaluated. Stakeholders have tried out what works and what might not work to end abuse. Policymakers and practitioners committed to end abuse need to support prevention efforts that are effective.
Resources You Can Use
- Abuse Prevention Resource Collection by the ARC of the Greater Twin Cities. The Arc’s collection of research papers, articles, and curriculum on abuse prevention of people with disabilities includes resources for self-advocates, family, and service providers.
- Creating Safety By Asking What Makes People Vulnerable and Conversations about Safety. These publications, created by the Violence Against Women with Disabilities and Deaf Women Project of Wisconsin, are designed to guide people with disabilities, advocates, and family members through key conversations to support people with disabilities in creating more safety for themselves. Visit the Disability Rights Wisconsin website for other resources and publications.
- Women with Disabilities and Sexual Violence Education Guide. This guide, created by the Illinois Imagines Project, provides a step-by-step training curriculum for rape crisis center and/or disability agency staff to use to educate women with disabilities about sexual violence, their rights, healthy sexuality and how to get help.
- Healthy Relationships, Sexuality and Disability. Prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, the guide contains a comprehensive list of sex education and sexual abuse prevention resources.