Violent Crime and People with Developmental Disabilities

People with disabilities are victims of violent crimes, physical and sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation at much higher rates than their peers without disabilities. The United States Department of Justice reports that the rate of violent crimes against people with disabilities was more than twice the rate experienced by people without disabilities.

While each situation is unique, most violent crimes occur because people with disabilities are viewed as “easy targets” due to an assumption that they are less capable of defending themselves physically. People with developmental disabilities are at particular risk because their cognitive abilities and social skills may be compromised, making them more susceptible to predators.

In 2009, the Hate Crimes Protection Act was amended to expand protections for people with disabilities. In 2011, when announcing the first charges brought under the amended Act, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said, “[Individuals with physical and mental disabilities] are among the most vulnerable in our society. They deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, not violence.”

Between 2009 and 2011, nearly one million people with disabilities were victims of violent crimes, including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and physical assault, such as beatings, stabbings and other acts of violence. Unfortunately, these statistics reflect only incidents that were actually reported to law enforcement.

According to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crimes, many victim assistance agencies report that they rarely serve crime victims with disabilities, not because criminal acts don’t occur, but because many people with disabilities are often reluctant to report acts of physical aggression, domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes.[1] Despite the prevalence of abuse among people with disabilities, more than half of victims never seek assistance from law enforcement. The most common reasons that people gave for not reporting a crime to authorities:

  • Fear of reprisal.
  • Fear of getting an offender into trouble and, as a result, jeopardizing their own living arrangements or personal support.
  • Belief that the police would not or could not help.
  • Assumption that the crime wasn’t important enough to report.
  • Perception that the victim would not be believed.[2]

From the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (2017)

Current research and victimization statistics are contained in a series of fact sheets produced by the Office for Victims of Crime. “Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities” can be found at

Filed in US District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, January 22, 2013

United States v. Linda Weston, Jean Mcintosh, Gregory Thomas, Sr., Eddie Wright, Nicklaus Woodword

A grand jury brought criminal charges against these five named defendants. A total of 176 counts related to Social Security benefits that were rightfully owed to eight individuals with disabilities. Over a ten year period, defendants targeted individuals with disabilities who had no family connections, offering them a place to stay, and became their representative payees. These individuals were victims of a conspiracy enterprise; subjected to violent crimes, murder, servitude, sex trafficking, hate crimes; drugged and confined; moved across state lines in an effort to avoid law enforcement or Social Security Administration authorities; and forced in some instances to have children with members of the Weston Family operation in order to increase the collection of Social Security benefits.

Weston pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison plus 80 years.

Read the complete document

Aired on CNN, January 23, 2013

Hate crimes alleged in holding of captives in Philly boiler room

Four adults imprisoned in a dark Philadelphia boiler room, beaten and underfed, were confined like zoo animals, federal prosecutors said Wednesday in announcing a 196-count indictment against their alleged captors.

The litany of federal charges against the alleged ringleader and her posse includes the first hate crime case of its kind — the victims were mentally and physically disabled, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The defendants, according to prosecutors, held the four victims in subhuman conditions in a scheme to steal Social Security benefits.

Read the entire article.

From the Huffington Post, March 23, 2013

Steven Simpson, Gay British Teen, Dies After Being Set On Fire At Birthday Party

A young British man has been convicted of manslaughter after killing a gay teen by setting him on fire.

The BBC reports that 20-year-old Jordan Sheard has been sentenced to three and a half years in jail for the death of Steven Simpson after pleading guilty to manslaughter charges. Simpson, 18, died one day after sustaining “significant burns” in June 2012, according to the report.

Simpson had Asperger’s syndrome, a speech impairment and epilepsy, the Yorkshire Post noted. The teen had reportedly been dared to strip down to his underpants before being doused in tanning oil, after which Sheard set him aflame at the party. Other reports said that anti-gay messages, including “gay boy” and “I love d*ck,” had been found scrawled across Simpson’s body.

Read the entire article.

From The Modesto Bee, October 12, 2012

Modesto police: Man tried to set woman on fire

A Modesto man was arrested for allegedly attempting to light a woman on fire, police said Friday.

The victim, who was in a wheelchair, was downtown at 18th and G Streets at about noon Thursday when she was approached by an unknown man, according to police Lt. Rick Armendariz.

The man called the 54-year old woman “the devil” and then proceeded to pour lighter fluid on her pants.

Yarbrough was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, elder abuse and assault with a caustic chemical. He could face additional charges related to assaulting the office, Armendariz said.

Read the entire article.

From NEWS10 ABC, November 15, 2011

Modesto mom to stand trial in stabbing of autistic son 

A Modesto woman has been ordered to stand trial for attempted murder in the stabbing of her autistic son.

Prosecutors say Anitra Hankins, 37, stabbed Miles, 13, multiple times with a knife in September 2010, then called 911 to report that her son was hurt. When police arrived at their apartment, they found the boy with his feet bound with rope.

Read the entire article.

From StarTribune, October 17, 2008

Beating victim’s mom: ‘What a Tragedy’

Justin Hamilton’s family was uneasy about his newfound relationship with a girl who authorities say instigated his kidnapping and brutal beating, his mother said Thursday.

Carolyn Hamilton said that about two weeks before the assault, her 24-year-old adopted son, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, met 16-year-old Natasha Dahn through mutual friends in Lakeville, where they both lived.

Read the entire article.

For more information and resources on this topic, see “Working With People With Developmental Disabilities As Victims“.

  1. ^Crime Victims with Disabilities, Office for Victims of Crime, retrieved from
  2. ^Victimizations Not Reported to the Police, 2006-2010, Bureau of Justice Statistics, retrieved from