Violence Against Individuals with Disability

Last week PLOS ONE published a paper on violence against people with disability in England and Wales. The study is a cross-sectional survey using data from the 2009/10 British Crime Survey that includes 44,398 people. The take-home message is grim:

 “Compared with the non-disabled, those with mental illness had adjusted relative odds (aOR) of 3.0 (95% confidence interval (CI) 2.3–3.8) and those with non-mental disability had aOR of 1.8 (95% CI: 1.5–2.2) of being a victim of past-year violence”

Image Credit: Amy Snyder (amys [at] exploratorium.edu)

The article caught my eye when I saw the press release and I expected it to be widely discussed in the mainstream media; especially so given the huge success of last year’s Paralympic games in London and the shocking neglect and abuse of patients with learning disabilities by staff at the Winterbourne View private hospital in the UK. I should note that the study excluded institutionalised individuals and no association between violence victimisation and learning disability was found (only 170 people with learning disabilities were included in the sample). Nevertheless, although well-read, I didn’t see the article widely reported in the news.

Newsworthiness isn’t a good measure of a study’s importance and perhaps, sadly, the findings do not come as a surprise. Last year two systematic reviews were published that found both adults and children with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than their non-disabled peers.

The recent PLOS ONE article and the two systematic reviews represent data from predominantly high resource settings (USA, UK, Canada, etc) and I was left wondering whether people with disabilities are at higher risk of violence in less well-resourced settings.  I’m reminded of a talk I attended describing CBM’s Mental Health programme in Aceh, Indonesia and a PLOS Medicine article from 2005 on human rights and mental health. While I was left hopeful about the CBM project, the description I heard of how people with mental health problems are treated where there is no or limited healthcare support in Indonesia suggests to me that people with disabilities in low resource setting are likely to also suffer increased risk of violence compared to their non-disabled peers and may well be more vulnerable than their disabled peers in countries such as England and Wales.

Khalifeh, H., Howard, L., Osborn, D., Moran, P., & Johnson, S. (2013). Violence against People with Disability in England and Wales: Findings from a National Cross-Sectional Survey PLoS ONE, 8 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055952

Jones L, Bellis MA, Wood S, Hughes K, McCoy E, Eckley L, Bates G, Mikton C, Shakespeare T, & Officer A (2012). Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Lancet, 380 (9845), 899-907 PMID: 22795511

Hughes K, Bellis MA, Jones L, Wood S, Bates G, Eckley L, McCoy E, Mikton C, Shakespeare T, & Officer A (2012). Prevalence and risk of violence against adults with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Lancet, 379 (9826), 1621-9 PMID: 22377290

Yamin, A., & Rosenthal, E. (2005). Out of the Shadows: Using Human Rights Approaches to Secure Dignity and Well-Being for People with Mental Disabilities PLoS Medicine, 2 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020071

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