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.” [1]

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

  1. ^Violence and Abuse Against People with Disabilities, 2004. http://www.temple.edu/instituteondisabilities/programs/justice/docs/bibliographyScans/Powers_Oschwald.pdf