Words can cause as much lasting harm as physical abuse. Verbal abuse can be used to intimidate, threaten or belittle and intended to cause emotional pain. Verbal and psychological abuse can include everything from yelling and name-calling to direct threats of physical harm or threats against people or things that are important to the other person as a way of instilling fear or gaining power and control.
Like other forms of abuse, verbal abuse often goes unreported. Adding to the challenge, verbal abuse is often unrecognized because attempts to blame, shame, humiliate, intimidate or threaten are often disregarded as “jokes,” the recipient is told he or she misunderstood the person’s intentions or is called “too sensitive.” As a result, verbal abuse can be difficult to prove.
In many cases, verbal abuse sets the stage for physical abuse. As one man with disabilities explained: “He and I got into the verbal altercation…so he thought he would put me in my place by throwing me up on the back of the chair, then letting me hang there. I’m on a ventilator…I had already been off for an hour and a half, and I was getting rather winded… So he just left me hanging there, kept screaming at me, and I had to apologize to him…hardly able to breath… He really scared the hell out of me.” 
From the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, Philadelphia Office, December 1, 2017
U.S. Civil Rights Office to investigate bullying complaint
The Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, has opened an investigation into a complaint filed by the Education Law Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The complaint alleges “a systematic failure by the school District of Philadelphia to promptly and appropriately address pervasive and severe bullying of students with disabilities.”
Requests by parents who wanted their children transferred to another school and a safe environment were declined. When students refused to go to school, families were taken to Truancy Court.
The District has no formal policy for parents seeking “safety” transfers. Complaints filed by parents go nowhere since the District only has an internal directive that gives total control of student transfers to school administrators and the District’s administrative officers. The environment and opportunity for bullying and harassment to continue go unchecked, and the violation of student’s civil rights is perpetuated.
Referrals to Truancy Court are themselves discriminatory. The District does not disaggregate these referrals based on disability status and no qualified District staff are present at truancy hearings. Students are caught in a court system that can’t address their needs, resulting in prolonged deprivation of a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE).
The Education Law Center is seeking policy reforms, compensatory education services and individual relief for each named student, and expungement of truancy referrals.
The Education Law Center-PA Complaint: https://www.elc-pa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/ELC-Bullying-OCR-Complaint-redacted.pdf
The Office of Civil Rights press release: http://thenotebook.org/articles/2017/12/01/used-office-of-civil-rights-to-investigate-complaint-that-on-bullying-of-students-with-disabilities-in-district
Aired on Today Show, April 25, 2012
Dad wires up autistic son, 10, to expose ‘bullying’ by teaching staff
A father discovered staff at a school in New Jersey were “bullying” and using offensive language toward his 10-year-old autistic son after he fitted his child with a wire.Read more
Stuart Chaifetz posted extracts of the recording on YouTube on April 20. He said the audio revealed staff members at Horace Mann Elementary School in Cherry Hill calling his son Akian a “bastard” and talking about vomiting that morning due to a hangover.
In response on Tuesday, the Cherry Hill School District released a statement saying a swift investigation had been conducted, and the people involved no longer worked there.
In the YouTube video, Chaifetz said that shortly after his “wonderful, happy son” went to the school, notes were sent home saying his son was “hitting the teacher, hitting the aide and throwing chairs over.”
A behaviorist was called in to see what was wrong, months passed, and Chaifetz still could not understand what was happening. Akian’s autism meant he was not able to tell his father.
Eventually, Chaifetz decided to fit Akian with a hidden recording device.
In the YouTube video, he said his “life changed forever” when he listened to the tape on the night of Friday, Feb. 17, and found that staff at the school were “literally making my son’s life a living hell.”
“Okay, Akian, you are a bastard,” was one comment on the tape from a woman who Chaifetz said was a teacher.
“Go ahead and scream, because guess what? You are going to get nothing until your mouth is shut,” was another.
‘The wine won’
He also recorded a conversation between two people in the class talking about the consequences of a night out drinking wine with a friend.
“You know what I was doing this morning?” says one woman. “Heaving?” asks the other. “Oh my God, so bad. The wine won.”
Chaifetz, a single parent, said his son regularly went to stay with his mother, but the boy would sometimes feel anxious about these moves and ask for reassurance that he would see his father again.
In the tape, Akian is heard asking “May I see?” — which Chaifetz said the staff member would know referred to him, based on prior experience — and the staff member replied, “You cannot see,” followed by the sound of laughter.
The staff member’s response — which Chaifetz said was designed to make fun of Akian — caused his son to have a “half-hour meltdown.” “I know how much that hurt Akian,” he added.
“He threw over chairs because he was in pain, because this woman had just stabbed him with words,” he added. “My son didn’t go to school, he went to prison and he learned to fight to survive.”
From Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, April 18, 2013
Multi-Million Dollar Settlement for Victims of Patient Abuse
After years of experiencing unspeakable cruelty at the hands of those supposed to be taking care of them, a group of seniors and severely disabled people at a Montreal long-term care facility have emerged victorious.Read more
In 1999, a class action lawsuit detailing hundreds of cases of abuse was launched against the St-Charles Borromée hospital in Montreal.
But it wasn’t until 2003, when family members of a patient there began secretly recording staff verbally and psychologically abusing their relative, that people began paying attention.
During 90 hours of recordings, staff called their relative — a 51-year-old woman who was left severely disabled after a car accident when she was 18 — a “pig,” repeatedly told her to “shut up,” refused requests for water and teased the woman by telling her a man was watching her outside her window and masturbating.
The tapes set off a chain of events that began with then-health minister Philippe Couillard calling a provincial inquiry, the suicide of hospital director Léon Lafleur and, ultimately, an all-out exposé on the conditions in Quebec nursing homes.
The scandal also encouraged other patients to come forward with their own stories of abuse, and the class action lawsuit was extended to include people who’d lived at the facility between 1993 and March 2006.
“It was a situation of grave negligence, of lack of coordination in service and care, a lack of respect, a lot of problems according to standards of how you treat patients and how you board and feed them,” said patients’ rights advocate Paul Brunet.
- ^Violence and Abuse Against People with Disabilities, 2004. http://www.temple.edu/instituteondisabilities/programs/justice/docs/bibliographyScans/Powers_Oschwald.pdf