Three national organizations last week announced a partnership to help people with disabilities who are victims of crime. The National Council on Disability, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and the National Center for Victims of Crime said they have forged a working relationship aimed at fostering greater public awareness about crime victims with disabilities and forging a national commitment to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the criminal justice and social-services systems.
In announcing the partnership, spokespeople for the organizations explained that there is little reliable national data about crimes against people with disabilities. The research that has been done, though, suggests that persons with disabilities are victimized at much higher rates than the general population. One study found that more than 25 percent of people with severe mental illness were victims of a violent crime, a rate more than 11 times that of the general population.
“For far too long, crime victims with disabilities have been virtually invisible in our nation,” said John Vaughn, chairperson of the National Council on Disability. “Greater understanding by the general public, elected officials and other policy makers, and those in the disability, judicial system, and victim services communities is foundational to addressing the unmet needs of this underserved population.”
A joint statement drafted by the three organizations calls for expanded research on crime against persons with disabilities and better public education about the needs of persons with disabilities who have been victimized. They also endorse public policy changes that give crime victims with disabilities better access to federal, state, and local services, and a national leadership forum that will give a public voice to crime victims with disabilities.
“Crime victims with disabilities should enjoy the same rights, protections, and services afforded other victims of crime,” said Mary Lou Leary, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “Our partnership represents a historic opportunity to bring the victim services, criminal justice, and disability communities together to identify innovative approaches to reaching these victims.”