People with disabilities were three times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the general population, according to the Crimes against Persons with Disabilities, 2009-2013 (Summary May 2015) published by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Individuals with a developmental disability are at greater risk for abuse because they depend on others for physical assistance and support.
It’s important to understand what abuse is, some of the symptoms of possible abuse, and how to respond to alleged, suspected, or actual occurrence of abuse. This can stop further abuse, ensure victims get the help they need, and prevent abusers from victimizing others.
What is abuse?
Physical abuse is the use of physical force that can reasonably be expected to result in physical harm or serious physical harm. This can include hitting, slapping, pushing, or throwing objects at an individual.
Sexual abuse is unlawful sexual conduct, contact, or activity. This can include rape, public indecency, importuning, and voyeurism.
What are some signs of possible abuse?
It’s important to know the signs of possible abuse so that it can be looked into and stopped. Remember that others around that individual may notice signs, and can help as well.
Signs of potential physical abuse:
• Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes;
• Untreated injuries;
• Sudden difficulty walking or sitting;
• A change in behavior or mood — the victim may act very upset (aggressive), lose skills or confidence, seem frightened of certain people or situations, not want to talk to anyone, or refuse to go places;
• Sudden onset of psychosomatic complaints (males most frequently complain of stomach aches while females most frequently report headaches);
• Problems at work.
Signs of potential sexual abuse:
• Bruising, bleeding, soreness, redness, irritation, itching, and unusual discharges;
• Torn or stained underwear or linens;
• Difficulty in walking or sitting;
• Ongoing and unexplained health problems such as stomach pain;
• Changes in behavior or mood such as aggression, attention-seeking behavior, self-destructive behavior, depression, refusal to participate in activities, clinging to others, display of new fears, changes in appetite;
• Changes in sleep patterns such as nightmares, trouble sleeping and sudden bedwetting;
• Dressing in layers of clothing;
• Resistance to being touched or undergoing physical examination;
• New sexual knowledge or sexual behavior, including hints about sexual activity;
• Unexplained accumulation of money or gifts;
• Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem;
• Sexually transmitted diseases;
• Attempts of running away;
• Desperately seeking affection from others.
What do I do if I suspect abuse?
When suspected abuse is not reported, the individual may continue to be victimized and remain at risk. Needed services and supports to assist the individual in response to such an event cannot then be provided. That’s why it’s important to immediately report all cases of alleged, suspected, or actual occurrence of abuse. Ohio’s system relies on quality reporting, and thoroughly investigates every case.
If you suspect or witness abuse:
1. Get the person help — seek appropriate medical attention, and take immediate action to protect the person from further assault.
2. Immediately report the abuse to the appropriate authorities, such as law enforcement and Children Services.
3. Immediately report the abuse to us here at the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities. If you feel there may be a conflict with the county board investigating (for example, the alleged abuser is a county board employee), you can report the abuse to the Department of Developmental Disabilities. Physical and sexual abuse major unusual incidents (MUIs), among others, must be reported within four hours.
To report abuse:
• Contact us at The Shelby County Board of DD – 937-726-2570
• Report Abuse Online — https://ocf.prodapps.dodd.ohio.gov/
• Call the Department of Developmental Disabilities Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 866-313-6733.
4. Emotionally support the victim. Connect them with resources such as counseling and victim’s assistance as appropriate. The type and length of services will be based on the needs of the individuals.
Am I required to report the abuse?
The law says certain people MUST make a report if they have good reason to believe that abuse or neglect has happened; this is called mandated reporting. Mandatory reporters include DD personnel, doctors, nurses and other health care providers, mental health professional, counselors, social workers, teachers and others.
DODD takes nonreporting very seriously. Every case of nonreporting is investigated, and can result in serious consequences of the person who failed to report. In extreme cases, this could include criminal charges or being added to the Abuser Registry.
The writer is chief public information officer for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.