Page 31

    communities and extended families, which increases the risk of violence. Group homes and institutions can also be isolating.

  • Alternative living situations may cluster vulnerable individuals with those who are likely to abuse them without providing safeguards against victimization.

  • Foster care homes, group homes, and institutions have all been found to increase the risks of victimization compared with typical natural families.

  • Adults, adolescents, and even some children without disabilities have often been able to escape from abusive living alternatives by making other life choices. People with disabilities are often prevented from making such choices.

  • Disabilities affect routine activities and exposure to high-risk environments. Many people who have development disabilities do not drive and are therefore much more likely to rely on mass transportation, walking, or others to get where they need to go. One study analyzing patterns of the sexual abuse of children with disabilities and the sexual assault of adults with disabilities found that 5 percent of offenses were committed by specialized transportation providers and 10 percent of offenses took place in vehicles (Sobsey and Doe, 1991). In addition, people are often committed to institutional care because they are unable to look after themselves or because they are dangerous to others. As a result, possible victims and prospective offenders are placed in close proximity with inadequate safeguards.


This chapter presents a model developed by Sobsey and Calder to explain the perceived disproportionate victimization of people with developmental disabilities. They suggest a long list of potential mechanisms that may contribute to the increased risk of violence and abuse for people with disabilities. The list is not comprehensive and the research that supports it is limited, but the mechanisms described here do represent a starting point. In their paper, Sobsey and Calder conclude that research would be required to determine which of these—or which other—mechanisms play a significant role in the victimization of people with disabilities.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement