While every person is at risk of becoming a victim of violence, risk factors are frequently rooted in oppression and inequality. These factors place certain groups at greater risk of being victimized, such as children, people in later life, people who do not speak English, and people with disabilities.

According to the 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey Crime Against People with Disabilities:

  • Age-adjusted rate of nonfatal violent crime against persons with disabilities was 1.5 times higher than the rate for persons without disabilities.
  • A person with a disability had an age-adjusted rate of rape or sexual assault that was more than twice the rate for people without a disability.
  • A person with a cognitive functioning disability had a higher risk of violent victimization than a person with any other type of disability.
  • People with more than one type of disability accounted for about 56% of all violent crime victimizations against those with any disability.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 violent crime victims with a disability believed that they became a victim because of their disability.

(http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/capd07.pdf )

Despite the many laws that require equal access to goods and services for all Americans, people with disabilities often find the services they most need after experiencing an assault to be unavailable and physically, programmatically, and/or attitudinally inaccessible.

To address the gap between crime victimization and service provision, The Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council awarded the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) a grant to develop a curriculum for people with disabilities on abuse. Additionally, the council requested that PCAR develop a specific module for care provides on abuse. The project team included Project Director, Karla Vierthaler, Dr. Beverly Frantz from the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, and Monica Gould of Strategic Consulting Partners, who served as the curriculum manager. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is an organization working at the state and national levels to prevent and address sexual violence. Incepted in 1975, PCAR continues to use its voice to challenge public attitudes, raise public awareness, and effect critical changes in public policy, protocols, and responses to sexual violence.

To provide quality services to victims/survivors of sexual violence and their significant others, PCAR works with its statewide network of 51 rape crisis centers serving all 67 counties in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The centers also work to create public awareness and prevention education within their communities. In addition to providing technical assistance in a variety of areas, the role of PCAR is to oversee the rape crisis centers’ contracts, monitor relevant legislation and public policy issues, provide library resources and educational trainings, and create public awareness campaigns.

An active advisory council, which included 23 members representing crime victims and disability services organizations, staff from the Office of Developmental Programs, and self-advocates guided the development of the curriculum.

Titled the S.A.F.E. (Stop Abuse for Everybody), the curriculum was developed to empower people with disabilities and their care providers to reduce the risk of becoming a crime victim identify risk factors, and report abuse. The content and design was developed based upon input from the Advisory Committee, focus groups, and pilot testing with self advocates, family members, and direct support staff across the Commonwealth.

The S.A.F.E. curriculum is designed to educate adults with disabilities about abuse and their rights. The major theme of the curriculum is empowerment. For the purpose of this curriculum, empowerment is defined as the power of knowledge. The curriculum is designed to help participants know their rights. Their rights to safety, speak out, and get help. Knowledge and empowerment are core principles in personal safety.

This curriculum consists of five modules. The first four modules are designed for persons with disabilities. The fifth module educates care providers on the signs of abuse, strategies for identifying abusive situations, and what to do.

The modules are:

Module 1: Financial Abuse – a safety guide on how to prevent and handle financial abuse to one’s money and personal belongings.

Module 2: Neglect and Withholding Support – a safety guide on how to prevent and handle situations where consumers are neglected or prevented from garnering the support they deserve.

Module 3: Physical and Verbal Abuse – a safety guide focused on preventing and handling situations where someone may be physically or verbally abused.

Module 4: Sexual Abuse – a safety guide exploring ways to prevent and handle sexual abuse situations.

Module 5: Curriculum Overview for Care Provider – to include but not limited to support coordination/agency employees and “care” providers which also includes family members and agency staff.

The care provider training module is an overview of the other four modules. It highlights a care providers’ responsibility to ensure the safety of the individuals they support.

Each module explores different types of abusive behaviors and is structured in the same manner as the previous modules. Each module follows the same format. The beginning of each module provides an introduction and overview of a specific type of abuse. The middle part of each module explores examples and experiences associated with a specific type of abuse. The last part of each module provides the participant with information on their rights, responsibilities, and local resources. Each module also shares the following objective for participants:

  • Be able to define words related to abuse
  • Be able to disclose and report abuse
  • State their rights and responsibilities


*Outlooks Newsletter, Spring 2012