Violence against disabled children

The life of children with disabilities is surrounded by stigma, discrimination, cultural  prejudices, ill- perceptions and shocking invisibility. Unfortunately, it is also dramatically marked by heightened risks of violence, neglect, injury and exploitation.

When we do find, in 2000,  in Wales, a 10-year-old girl with autism and her 14-year-old brother who had developmental disabilities are beaten to death with a hammer by their father who later kills himself; and in 2002 a Belgian father being charged with strangling his 9- year-old autistic  son, we could also find similar severe cases in other countries like a Canadian mother, in 2001, who fatally poisoned her 14-year-old daughter with Rett syndrome, and Guerillas who invaded a home and killed an 11-year-old Israeli girl with developmental disabilities, on the West Bank. In 2003, an Italian suffocates her adult autistic daughter in Ferrara only a few days after a retired army doctor shot his autistic son in another part of the country.

In 2000 Sullivan and Knutson  studied the histories of more than 40,000 children in city in the American Midwest. They compared children with disabilities, as indicated by their school records, with those without disabilities. Police, child protection, and foster care review records indicated that 9% of children without disabilities had substantiated records of maltreatment, but among children with disabilities 31% had substantiated records of maltreatment. Many other studies report similar increased rates of maltreatment among children with disabilities (Sobsey, “Exceptionality” n.pag).

A study of child prostitutes in Taiwan reports that 5.4% have mental disabilities and an additional 29.4% have borderline intellectual abilities. It also found that 6.3% had complete
fragile-X chromosomes and an additional 5.5% had partial fragile-X mutations. These numbers suggest that developmental disabilities exist among child prostitutes at rates many times those in the general population.

Already in July 2005 UNICEF had released a summary report entitled, “Violence Against Disabled Children” (PDF format 245 Kb), with the subtitle “UN Secretary Generals Report on Violence against Children, Thematic Group on Violence against Disabled Children, Findings and Recommendations.”

The World Health Organization indicates that about 57,000 children die in reported homicides each year, not counting those who die in war and other armed conflicts. This report goes on to point out that the number of unreported homicides of children is likely to be even larger. It is currently believed that for every child who dies as a result of violence at least 10 are permanently disabled.
Estimates of the number of children who suffer from abuse, neglect, and other violence  each year are in the tens of millions. Violence is one of the most serious problems facing the world’s children, and children with disabilities experience violence much more frequently than other children.

In 2003 Dorothy K. Marge, Ph.D., had also warned that all societies assess the severity of offences in about the same manner, especially the crimes of murder, theft, robbery and incest. In spite of efforts to maintain complete social order, however, most societies experience fluctuations in control of order from time to time. Since a society may have
persons who engage in deviant behaviours, social controls have been developed to handle these individuals and/or groups who have disregard for values of the community or cause disruptions of order in the community.

In 2006 Kofi Annan said: “Violence against children cuts across boundaries of geography, race, class, religion and culture. It occurs in homes, schools and streets; in places of work and entertainment, and in care and detention centres. Perpetrators include parents, family members, teachers, caretakers, law enforcement authorities and other children. Some children are particularly vulnerable because of gender, race, ethnic origin, disability or social status. And no country is immune, whether rich or poor.
The consequences of violence can be devastating. Above all, it can result in early death. But
even children who survive must cope with terrible physical and emotional scars. Indeed, violence places at risk not only their health, but also their ability to learn and grow into adults who can create sound families and communities. Violence against children is thus a major threat to global development and our work to reach the Millennium Development Goals.”

Grandville : Cent Proverbes

Granville (Jean-Ignace-Isidore Gérard): Cent Proverbes - H. Fournier Éditeur, Paris, 1845

We know that bullying and violence is a form of social disorder. Four political uses of violence were identified by van den Haag (1972). These four uses are: (1) to acquire power; (2) to exercise power; (3) to challenge authority; and (4) to enforce authority.

It is important to remember that “public order in a free society does not and cannot rest solely on applications or threats of force by authorities. It must also rest on the people’s acceptance of the legitimacy of the rule-making institutions of the political and social order and of the rules these institutions make” (Mulvihill and Tumin, 1969). Merton (1957) observed “Power may be legitimized for some without being legitimized for all groups in a society. It may, therefore, be misleading to describe non-conformity with particular social institutions merely as deviant behaviour; it may represent the beginning of a new  alternative pattern, with its own distinctive claim to moral validity.”

You would think in a civilised country as the United States of America people would take note of such reports and change their attitude and the things where they go wrong. In 19 US states corporal punishment is still — shockingly — legal. Even more shocking is how often it’s used on students with disabilities.

The United States has moved from less complex social controls that were deeply embedded in the traditional institutions, such as family and church, to more complex social controls, such as law enforcement agencies. Campbell et al. observed that in contemporary times these social controls are instituted through impersonal, legal, highly formalized and structured governmental organizations, such as law enforcement agencies. Today people have far gone of the Scriptures or just the opposite have taken on very extreme (unsriptural) so called Christian ideas.

History has established a milieu in which violence, legitimate and illegitimate, can thrive and in fact, is openly encouraged in certain circumstances.
The legitimate circumstances include state sanctioned violence, such as war. The illegitimate circumstances refer to vigilantism, gang wars, organized crime, and excessive force by the police.
Enjoyment has come the prime factor for many persons in our community. The self has come for them in the first place. Help to come in higher spheres are easily found in all sorts of drugs which circulate freely.  There are the legal and the illegal use of drugs and irresponsible use of alcohol which have been shown to increase the prospect of crime and violence. In the US the civilians have to face the possibility that everybody can buy fire weapons like you can go to the grocery to buy your daily leaf of bread. The accessibility to firearms has been found not only to increase the magnitude of violence but also the lethality of acts of violence. More than forty years ago when the relationship between access to firearms and violence was noted, the Kerner Commission’s Report recommended the enactment of “laws governing the restriction on the sale of firearms and restricting possibilities of thefts of firearms.” Legal and illegal access to firearms still poses problems. Military veterans might choose to keep their weapons as souvenirs rather than leave them with their military units. This practice was noted after the Civil War (Pearson, 1996) but continues to the present time. Rather than accomplish what it intended, the Brady Bill, unfortunately, appears to have been a catalyst for the increase of paramilitary groups, some of whom would raid armouries to access weapons (Dees, 1996) (M. Marge).

Violence is found in environments that include the home, school, church, community and work. Recent reports of violent behaviour have been identified in some, heretofore, unexpected environments. For example, incidents of road rage, air rage, parking lot rage, and parental rage at children’s athletic events have escalated in violence to the point of severe injuries or death to victims of these attacks. Sexual crimes of violence against children, for example, have occurred in day care centres by caregivers, in schools by teachers or other authority figures, in religious facilities by clergy or other religious personnel, in camps by counsellors, in health care settings by health care providers as well as in other institutions where the safety and care for dependent persons have been entrusted and, formerly would never be questioned.

Often the violence is not coming from a stranger to the victim. Mostly it can be found close to the environment.

The mentioned violence toward children with disabilities at home, in schools, in institutions, in the criminal justice system, within the broader community, and at work (in child labour situations) did as you could think, come not to an end. Children with disabilities are known to be at higher risk for abuse, partly because they may be perceived as “easy victims.” Also, abuse toward disabled children is less likely to be investigated or persecuted, which means abusers know it is easier to escape consequences even if the abuse is discovered.

Disabled person are often in a bad position to help themselves out and some individuals even have diminished ability to comprehend, reason, or communicate, which increases risk for victimization because many perpetrators seek individuals who are unable to  understand and communicate criminal actions and whose credibility will be questioned because of the disability. The weak are the easy victims and for the other one it is an open opportunity to feel his power over somebody else, which can give him or her satisfaction.

Some people with physical disorders but full consciousness are often put in a situation where they are not able to escape from. The key problem for them is the ability to physically  escape from the location where violence may be or is occurring and is able to fight back against a perpetrator. Physically they are not able to defend themselves against
physical assault, though they perhaps may be wise and strong enough to battle the psychological abuse.

For those with a sensory disorder (Blindness, Deafness, Deaf-blind) it becomes even more frightening because they can not place themselves in space, and have often no idea were the escape routes are. They also will have a reduced sense of danger as well as an inability to escape from a dangerous encounter.Those who are deaf will have diminished ability to sense danger but are usually physically capable of defending themselves against physical
assault or escaping a dangerous situation.

An other factor not doing good for the safety of disabled persons is the environment where they grow up. The last few years the pressure became higher on families and poverty grew.

In 2001, the poverty rate for related children less than 6 years of age was 18.2%.
Of children under 6 living in families with a female householder, no spouse present, 48.9% were poor, over five times the rate of their counterparts in married-couple families (9.2%).
The number of single mothers increased between 1970 and 2000, from 3 million to 10 million. Over the same time frame, the number of single fathers increased from 393,000 to 2 million. (Single parents include all those who are not currently living with a spouse.)
In 2001, there were 6.8 million poor families up from 6.4 million in 2000. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002)

The enormous pressure from work, were more and more is required form a person, the low wages, severed by bad use of their money plus use of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, and no economic plan, make it that people break or inflame by a small incident. The Child be left holding the baby. The scapegoat can not find a good way out when she or he get the blame for things gone wrong. Frustration is worked out at the helpless individual. In such instances not to show the power of the attacker but the bully more form being pushed in a corner by a situation  the valid person can not cope with.

The family is the context in which bonding takes place. If adequate bonding does not occur, it is speculated that the child will become at risk for antisocial behaviour and his/her future interpersonal relationships will be faulty. the poverty adds up to an already bad situation, which costs a lot of people a lot of money because they do not have enough insurance money to cover the costs of the handicapped his or her treatment.

Some people workout their frustration or their own will to live freely with an overdose of aggressive discipline. Severe discipline which uses physical punishment increases aggressive  behaviour in children and may provide a model of aggressive behaviour that children imitate. They learn to react the wrong way and the ball gets rolling in the wrong camp.

When combined with other determinants, such as the belief in male dominance and racial
discrimination, the doors are put open to a breeding ground for aversion, counter reaction, revolt or gang behaviour and will increase expressions of violence.

More and more the trust becomes undermined and real good communication comes to a standstill.

According to Reiss and Roth “Accumulation of flash emotions – anger, frustration, stress, fear, for example, all contribute. Premeditation, sexual arousal, or urges to prove one’s
manhood sometimes play roles.”

Furthermore, the setting in which interactions occur may influence the perpetration of violence. Location, physical characteristics of the environment, and access to a security system may increase or decrease the probability of perpetrating violence.

In all the capitalist countries we can notice an increase of violence to get stuff from others. More and more people are bullied.

A 2009 study (PDF) found that 39.6 percent of parents of autistic children reported their children had been bullied for over a year. As many children with disabilities have difficulties communicating, the extent to which they are bullied and subjected to violence from peers may well be underreported.

In addition, many autistic children are subjected to physical restraint as a “behavioural technique” by school staff. In a recent court case in Indiana, a special education teacher was cleared of charges in using restraint procedures against a 12-year-old autistic boy.  The US Department of Education has said that, by this fall, it will issue guidelines to school districts about the use of restraints, seclusion and other aversive procedures in US public schools. But currently there are no federal guidelines for restraint and seclusion procedures; some states have regulations but many leave these to the discretion of individual school districts.

In the United Nations of America more than 200,000 children are struck each school year, according to Department of Justice data, and that’s just counting what is reported. Clearly it’s high time that our society and our government do something about the continued use of corporal punishment on our students and, especially, our students with disabilities. On September 22, the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act(ECPSA) was reintroduced into Congress. The bill would prohibit school personnel from striking children in their care.

A bill to protect school children from abusive restraint, seclusion and aversive interventions in public schools remains stalled in Congress. The bill was passed on March 3, 2010 by the U.S. House of Representatives but did not come up for consideration in the Senate. In April some congressmen again introduced the bill, HR 1381, in the House, but it has yet to be considered. (Please see the petition below to urge your representatives to support this important piece of legislation.)

National regulations about the use of restraints, seclusion and aversive procedures in public schools should not only address the dangers of these but provide, as Posny says in Disability Scoop, “clear policies surrounding the dignified and appropriate use of restraint and seclusion in truly dangerous situations.” Schools should use positive behaviour supports and other pro-active techniques. Further, parents should know that they have legal rights about the use of restraints, seclusion and aversive procedures on their children and that the use of these can and must be detailed in an IEP and a BIP and only as a “last resort” in “crisis management” situations. Further, parents must be informed immediately after such practices are used.

As Alice Farmer of Human Rights Watch reminds us, this year is the fifth since the United Nations issued a report about violence against children. Before the US can censure other countries for their treatment of children, should not we enact laws to ensure that our children are safe and are not subjected to violence and physical abuse by those who are purportedly looking out for them?

Violence against children is never justifiable. Nor is it inevitable. If its underlying causes are identified and addressed, violence against children is entirely preventable. There must be action in all sectors – from health and education to labour and justice – and at all levels, local, national and international. But civil society groups and individual citizens also have important roles to play. You to can make a difference.

Today time to react:

Today in 21st century America, a 6-year-old autistic boy, Landon K., was paddled with an inch-thick paddle by an assistant principalin Mississippi. Another autistic student, 15-year-old Jonathan C., was placed in a chokehold by a male staff member in a school in Florida. His offense? Screaming in the cafeteria — which, given his autism diagnosis, could very well have occurred due to sensory overload and challenges communicating.


Related Care2 Coverage

Toronto Police Defend Handcuffing Boy with Asperger’s

Basket Holds & Take Downs: Restraints in Public Schools Need More Scrutiny

Disabled Children Abused and Beaten in State Institutions

Vatican Denies Cover-Up of Abuses By Priests in Ireland

Read more: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Plus: Take Action: Please sign the petition to urge your representatives to support the bill to keep our children safe in school.

Violence Against Children With Disabilities: Underreported and All Too Common

Violence Against Children With Disabilities: Underreported and All Too Common

and Take action on  Violence Against Children With Disabilities: Underreported and…



With acknowledgement to: Dorothy K. Marge for her “Call to Action: Ending Crimes of Violence Against Children and Adults With Disabilities; A Report to the Nation”; SUNY Upstate Medical University Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Syracuse, NY 2003;

Single copies of the “Report to the Nation 2003 A Call to Action: Ending Crimes Of Violence  Against Children And Adults With Disabilities”  may be requested from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, SUNY Upstate Medical University, 310 Jacobsen Hall, 750 N. Adams Street, Syracuse, New York 13210.
Also, a copy of this report is available on the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, SUNY Upstate Medical University’s website:

Further references:

  • Dees, M. (1996). Gathering storm: America’s militia threat. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Marge, M. (1995). (Ed.). Violence as a cause of disability. Proceedings of a Conference on
    Violence Prevention. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Mulvihill, D.J. & Tumin, M.M. (1969). Crimes of violence (Vol. 11). A staff report submitted to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Washington, DC:  U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Reiss, Jr., A.J. & Roth, J.A. (Eds.). (1993). Understanding and preventing violence.Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
  • Sobsey Dick (200). Children with Disabilities and the United Nations
    Study of Violence Against Children. University of Alberta.
  • van den Haag, E. (1972). Political violence and civil disobedience. New York: Harper & Row.


The 33-page report can be downloaded in PDF format (245 Kb) at:

Unicef videoaudio/PDFs/UNICEF_Violence_Against_Disabled_Children_Report_Distributed_Version.pdf

People interested in the topic of violence against children may also wish to read an article on violence and disabled children in the 2003 issue of the joint Rehabilitation International and UNICEF newsletter, One in Ten:


Please do read:

Promoting the rights of children with disabilities

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Independent Expert for the United Nations Secretary-General’s  Study on Violence against Children


  • What are the advantages of domestic violence with children (
  • Cuomo Says He Will Reform Agencies Serving Disabled (
    Mr. Sundram was appointed by the governor earlier this year, amid an investigation by The New York Times into widespread allegations of abuse and neglect at facilities overseen by the State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. The investigation found that employees who committed physical and sexual abuse were often transferred to other group homes instead of being fired, and that law enforcement was rarely notified of alleged abuses. The Times has also described the high salaries paid to Medicaid-financed nonprofit service providers overseen by the state.
  • Center for Study of Violence Against Children Gets New Name (
  • Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention Announces The Engaging Men and Boys National Summit at 2011 Clinton Global Initiative (
    Launched in 2001 by Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), a national leader working to end violence against women and children, “Coaching Boys into Men” specifically focuses on guiding and inspiring athletic coaches to address issues of relationship violence and abuse with their athletes. To expand the program, The Waitt Institute will convene a national conference that will bring together partners and leaders from 20 communities with demonstrated leadership in engaging men and boys in violence prevention.
  • Men with disabilities 4 times more likely to be sexually abused than men without disabilities (
    Approximately 13.9% of men with disabilities reported lifetime sexual violence, compared to 3.7% of men without disabilities, 26.6% of women with disabilities, and 12.4% of women without disabilities. Men with disabilities (5.3%) were more likely to report past-year sexual violence than (1.5%) and women (2.4%) without disabilities and less likely than women with (6.3%).
  • Witnessing Family Violence (
    What children and youth who are exposed to types of emotional abuse learn.
  • What’s In a Name? Labeling the “Different” Child (
    The US has more programs, services, entitlements, and laws for people with disabilities than any other nation or at any other time in history. In order to gain access to these programs, a diagnosis by a health care professional is required.  No label, no support.
    A child’s disability is just one of his many characteristics. He’s also smart, funny, cuddly, and adorable. How must it affect him to always hear there’s something “wrong” with him?
  • Ministers to discuss disability data model (
    Federal and state education ministers are expected to agree on a national model to identify students with disabilities.It would be the first time Australia’s had such a scheme, ensuring data on student disabilities is consistent across the country.
  • The Circle of Violence (
    Eventually, every abused person—if they do not kill, get killed, or get sentenced to time behind bars, or spend all their lives in front of bars—searches for a way to feel good, to feel life is worth living and that there is a real thing called peace of mind and caring between people.
  • Department of Justice Announces Violence Against Women Task Force and Public Safety Funding for Tribes (
    “We know too well that tribal communities face unique law enforcement challenges and are struggling to reverse unacceptable rates of violence against women and children,” said Holder. “… I believe it is a critical step in our work to improve public safety and strengthen coordination and collaboration concerning prosecution strategies with tribal communities.”
  • U.K. -Disabled child poverty ‘staggering’ (
    A “staggering” 320,000 of the 800,000 disabled children in the UK live in poverty – 110,000 of these in severe poverty – over 30,000 more than previously estimated, the Children’s Society said.Where a disabled child was in a household with a disabled adult, the figure for those living in poverty rose to 49%, according to the analysis by the charity.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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