In recent months the Wangaratta Chronicle has reported a number of crimes where the victims had disabilities. A man who is an incomplete paraplegic had his motor scooter stolen. He needed it to get to work. A 62 year-old woman with an unspecified disability awoke to find a teenager in her house. He claimed to be a police officer who had just arrested an offender in her backyard. He stole some of her valuables. And two men were given suspended sentences after attacking soccer players who had disabilities.
These crimes lead to the question, are people with disabilities more likely to be victims of crime than people who do not have disabilities? You might think the obvious people to ask are the police, but the Victorian police do not keep statistics on crimes involving victims with a disability. Even if police recorded a person’s disability, they might miss people whose disability is not obvious.
Personal safety statistics
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has done research on crime that provides some insight into crimes against people with disabilities. In February 2012 they did a national Personal Safety Survey. Adults were asked whether they had experienced violence in the previous 12 months. Violence included physical assault, sexual assault, physical threat and sexual threat.
The survey estimated seven per cent of the population had experienced violence in the 12 months prior to February 2012. For people with a disability the figure was a slightly higher 7.6 per cent, as compared to 6.7 per cent for people without a disability. The survey’s researchers say the percentages are so close that they are not statistically significant. They feel that people with a disability had just as much chance of being a victim of violence as any other member of the population.
Specific disabilities and crime
A 2010 Bureau of Statistics survey gathered data on crime in the previous twelve months. Crimes included violence or the threat of violence and attempted or actual break-ins. The survey estimated that 13.6 per cent of adults with a mental health disability had experienced violence in the previous 12 months. A further 10.5 per cent had been victims of break-ins. For the population as a whole, 10.3 per cent had experienced violence and eight per cent had experienced a break-in. So people with a mental health condition were more likely to be victims of both violence and break-ins.
The researchers said
overall, the results of the analysis show that persons who have been a victim of crime are significantly more likely to have a disability due to a mental health condition than persons that have not been a victim of crime.
There are many articles on the web that say people with a mental health disability are more likely to be victims of crime, especially of sexual abuse and violence. But many of these articles appear to rely on small samples, out of date or anecdotal evidence, or statistics that come from difficult to verify sources.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission is currently conducting research into people with disabilities and their experiences of crime. This research should shed further light on the extent of crime against people with disabilities.
Over recent years the media appears to be reporting more and more crimes against people with disabilities. We were outraged when a World War II veteran was pushed from his wheelchair and robbed. The outrage about such crimes sticks in the mind. The media’s tendency to highlight and sensationalise such crimes could create an impression that people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime. This is contrary to the limited available statistics that suggest people with disabilities are no more likely to be victims of crime than those without disabilities. People with mental health disabilities appear to be an exception.