October is National Bullying Prevention Month. However, when mainstream media focuses upon the bullying epidemic in our society, only stories about teenagers are traditionally publicized. The most tragic stories usually involve a teen who seemingly has everything to live for takes their own life after being mercilessly bullied by peers.
These stories of teenage suicide cause outrage because almost everyone can put themselves in the parent’s shoes. However, the people most vulnerable to bullies in modern society are those with disabilities. These are the silent, defenseless victims who are quick to trust, making them the perfect targets for bullies.
It’s uncomfortable to think of a person with disabilities being bullied, sexually assaulted, abused and in some cases murdered. Most people with disabilities that I have come in contact with are gentle souls that only want to love and be loved. However, this fact makes them vulnerable and unfortunately, bullies thrive on vulnerabilities.
Someone with a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability is viewed as the perfect victim in the eyes of a bully because:
- Disabled people are more likely to “keep quiet” about being bullied for fear of making someone mad or not like them anymore
- As a society, we often treat disabled people like children and expect them to comply with us at all times
- Disabled people are often at the mercy of others for housing, transportation, and day-to-day activities
When bullies come in contact with helpless, easily victimized individuals they feel empowered. In some cases, the bullying escalates into violent acts.
When Bullying Turns to Hate Crime
When someone is bullied because of their physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability, it can be considered a hate crime. In fact according to the report by the U.S. Department of Justice:
“Persons with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to experience violence than those without disabilities.”
There are several cases where the bullying has crossed over into hate crime, for example, as in the case of Jennifer Daugherty in Pennsylvania in February 2010. Jennifer, who had intellectual disabilities, was abducted by six people who tortured and humiliated her for two days, then murdered her.
In January 2017 a male teen diagnosed with schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was kidnapped and tortured in a suburb of Chicago. The four people responsible livestreamed the assault on Facebook Live. The fact that they were loud and were trying to ransom the family for the disabled teen’s release most likely saved his life.
These are extreme cases to be sure. However, disabled citizens are often targets for bullying and abuse. Their trusting nature and the fear that they won’t be believed makes them vulnerable to those who lack a moral compass. It is up to us to protect the vulnerable citizens in our society.
We Must Be Advocates
As a society, we are taught to look out for elders and children. These are our mainstream obligations. However, we must also realize that disabled citizens need our protection too. If you know someone who has a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability, watch out for the signs of the abuse (e.g. bruising, scratches, unexplained sadness, crying, and withdrawal from normal activities).
When it comes to putting an end to bullying, we must all be advocates for the disabled by:
- Intervening when we witness bullying by “Stopping Bullying on the Spot”
- Teaching our children to respect all people
- Refusing to participate in derogatory stereotyping of those different from “us”
Kindness is the solution, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the whims of a bully.
Timothy Dimoff – Speaker, National Expert, Author
Tim Dimoff’s engaging and thought-provoking presentations are sure to enlighten, inform and move you into taking action on such critical issues as workplace risks, substance abuse, security, and societal threats. He can help your organization stop bullies in the workplace with his presentation 8 Effective Measurements to Stop Workplace Bullying. Feel free to contact Tim today to speak at your organization.