From the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.
Over the past two decades, the disability community has more openly discussed the issue of violence against persons with disabilities. As a result, governments and members of society in more countries are paying greater attention to the issue. This increased awareness is also the result of a stronger, more organized disability rights movement, and the impact of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the more recent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Emerging evidence suggests that women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence, including sexual abuse. Women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse, and do so over a longer period of time than their non-disabled counterparts. However, they are much less likely to report such crimes to the authorities. To address this kind of challenge, the SDGs call for the disaggregation by disability of proposed indicators for gender-based violence.
Children with disabilities, persons with intellectual disabilities, and persons living in institutional settings also face a greater risk for sexual violence. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, persons with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be a victim of non-fatal violent crime than counterparts in their age group who do not have disabilities. According to a 2004 study of the European Parliament, women with disabilities in the European Union were estimated to be four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than their peers without disabilities.
Violence against people with disabilities has, in many cases, not been properly addressed by law enforcement or judicial systems. People with disabilities often do not have access to the legal system. The law enforcement community may not respond appropriately to reports of violence against people with disabilities, leading to a lack of reporting and prosecution. Governments need to be held accountable to ensure that cases of violence and abuse against persons with disabilities is taken seriously and properly prosecuted. As long as perpetrators’ of crimes are not prosecuted, people with disabilities are at great risk of being targeted for violence and abuse, as abusers will know they can do so with relative impunity.
Of course, to truly end the scourge of violence against people with disabilities, we also need to address the social stigma and isolation that accompany a disabled person in far too many parts of the world. That’s why the Department of State, through our diplomacy and programs, supports efforts to empower women and men with disabilities, and ensure that they are visible, active participants in their communities.
Violence against persons with disabilities has been ignored by too many for far too long. More governments and civil society are increasingly recognizing abuse on the basis of disability, and are taking action to address this form of discrimination. The women’s rights community must work proactively to address violence against women and girls with disabilities. We must also remember to engage in this work those people who become disabled as a consequence of violence, particularly women and girls. It’s time that we all recognize its harmful impacts. Violence against persons with disabilities denies us the inalienable human rights we all deserve; and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer.