Breaking Silence On Crime Victims With Disabilities

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Crime Victims With Disabilities

Addressing the long-neglected needs of crime victims with disabilities is the focus of a new partnership announced by the National Council on Disability, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and the National Center for Victims of Crime.

The ultimate goal of this partnership is to foster greater public awareness about crime victims with disabilities and to forge a national commitment to better serve this particularly vulnerable population.

"For far too long, crime victims with disabilities have been virtually invisible in our nation. Greater understanding by the general public, elected officials and other policy makers, and those in the disability, judicial system, and victim services communities is foundational to addressing the unmet needs of this underserved population," said John Vaughn, chairperson of the National Council on Disability. "We join our esteemed partners today in calling for a comprehensive approach to turn this situation around."

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Very little reliable national data exists on crimes against people with disabilities. Existing research suggests, however, that persons with disabilities are victimized at much higher rates when compared with the general population. One study, for example, found that more than one-fourth of persons with severe mental illness were victims of a violent crime, a rate more than 11 times that of the general population.(1)

With more than 51 million people in the United States reporting some level of disability(2) -- and the nature of disability increasing the risk of victimization -- the partnering organizations underscore the critical importance of helping crime victims with disabilities access the criminal justice and social services systems.

"Crime victims with disabilities should enjoy the same rights, protections, and services afforded other victims of crime," said Mary Lou Leary, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. "Our partnership represents a historic opportunity to bring the victim services, criminal justice, and disability communities together to identify innovative approaches to reaching these victims."

In announcing the partnership, the three organizations released a joint statement that calls for expanded research to establish the prevalence and impact of crime against persons with disabilities. The statement also calls for greater public education to raise awareness about the circumstances and needs of persons with disabilities who have been victimized by crime; public policy changes that integrate crime victims with disabilities and their needs into the current framework of federal, state, and local services; increased access to programs and services that will help crime victims with disabilities rebuild their lives; and a national leadership forum that will serve as a unifying and pro-active voice for crime victims with disabilities.

"Too many crime victims with disabilities are living lives of silent desperation," said Royal P. Walker, Jr., JD, president of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. "This exciting initiative can give individuals who have been victimized by crime new hope and bring about a fresh look at this multifaceted problem."

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