Preventing Abuse and Assault Against People with Disabilities

Volunteer Helping Person with Cognitive Disability

A recent, year-long investigation by NPR “The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About” exposed a subset of our society that is often overlooked in the growing conversations about sexual harassment and sexual assault. Individuals with cognitive disabilities are most at risk, experiencing sexual assault 7 times more frequently than those without a disability.

People with cognitive disabilities often experience abuse from individuals that they know, sometimes even from their personal caregivers. They are often targeted because they are isolated, abusers know they can be easily manipulated and they may have difficulty testifying in court.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report “Crime Against Persons with Disabilities:”

  • 65% of rapes or sexual assaults against persons with disabilities were committed against those with co-occurring disability types.
  • 40% of victimization is carried out by a well-known/casual acquaintance.
  • 57% of victimization occurred during daylight hours.
  • 36.8% of victims did not report the crime

As a healthcare, nonprofit, human services or other relevant organization, it is critical that you take every step to protect the vulnerable populations that you work with, as well as protect your own organization against any liability in the event one of these terrible incidents occurs within the context of your operations.  

Avoiding the Risk

The most effective course of action is prevention through a very thorough hiring process. This includes asking probing questions throughout the application and interview process, reaching out to a good sample of employment references, conducting a comprehensive background check, and searching for any red flags.  Unfortunately, this still does not always give the full picture. According to Rainn.org, “Only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 3 out of 4 go unreported.”

Your organization should establish, maintain, train employees to, and continually update all policies regarding sexual misconduct. Establishing a zero tolerance for abuse policy that clearly outlines reporting procedures for staff and clients will help to ensure everyone knows what is expected in the event they witness an assault. A physical contact reporting policy helps to ensure all incidents are recorded, as often witnesses may be confused as to what they had observed.

Training your employees how to recognize signs of assault in a victim, especially one with cognitive disabilities can be critical to helping remove that individual from an abusive situation. A presentation from West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources includes many examples of what to look out for:

  • Changes in mood, conduct, eating, sleeping and communication.
  • Regression from learned/mastered skills.
  • Changes in health due to improper administration of medications.
  • And more.

Transferring & Mitigating Risk

In the absence of being able to avoid the risk, the transfer of risk predominately involves insurance in a tough underwriting climate. The underwriting process is tightening in a hardening insurance marketplace as the #MeToo movement has contributed to a costly increase in claims and great legal awareness. As a result in 2018 and so far in 2019, we’ve seen higher deductibles, subjectivities restricted limits and denial of coverage. In an effort to ensure favorable coverage, it is important that your organization is able to identify all documented prevention and mitigation efforts in place.

You may already have the programs and processes (some described above) in place to help mitigate these risks. These policies may just need to be refined and elevated to meet the standards of our current landscape surrounding abuse prevention. Mitigation techniques are likely already required and are an easy sell, as the cost/benefits from the efforts are often quite clear.

Whether you are looking to expand your risk prevention efforts or invest in increased insurance solutions, RCM&D is available to help you protect your client population with disabilities, as well as your bottom-line. Contact a trusted advisor today to discuss your risk management and insurance needs.