Fact Sheets

There are many social and legal obstacles that prevent persons with disabilities from accessing justice after they have been abused. These obstacles include:

In the past, people with disabilities were not routinely informed of the rights guaranteed to them by law.  Many, who were chronically victimized, did not even know that society censures the types of crime people with disabilities commonly fall prey to - nor that society “has tools to end and redress that wrong.” Persons with disabilities may be considered less-than-credible victims because they have difficulty articulating the abuse as a result of cognitive or communication impairments. They are often seen as immune to pain and suffering, and dehumanized as asexual beings: “Who would want to rape them?”

How can service providers make living safer for people with disabilities?

Recognizing the Signs of Abuse:

The following section contains abuse fact sheets, providing summaries of the indicators/signs of abuses discussed in Section One. Also provided are checklists for identifying abuse in one’s own life and assessing the lethality of an abuser. These Fact Sheets are included for purposes of photocopying and display or distribution to consumers and their families.


Physical abuse is the deliberate use of physical force for intimidation, or to inflict bodily harm. Some indicators of physical abuse or mistreatment of a person with a disability are: unexplained cuts, scrapes, and bruises or injuries for which the explanation does not fit the evidence.  Behavioural signs include avoidance of significant family, friends or care workers. Other signs include a history of repeated injury/illness; delays in seeking treatment and unhealed sores and/or pressure marks.


  • Pinching, Squeezing
  • Pushing, Shoving and Restraining
  • Jerking, Shaking, Pulling
  • Shaking, causing bruising
  • Slapping, Biting, Hair pulling
  • Hitting, Punching, Kicking & Choking
  • Forced sexual activity
  • Forced feeding of undesired food and medications
  • Throwing objects at person with a disability, or throwing person on bed or chair
  • Lacerations that require stitches
  • Use of weapons
  • Broken bones, Internal injuries
  • Disabling or Disfiguring injuries
  • Death

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Sexual abuse includes involuntary, forced sexual contact such as kissing, fondling, and intercourse. Forcing an individual to have an abortion or to submit to sterilization may also be considered forms of sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse happens to boys and men as well as to girls and women. It can occur in families, in hospitals, jails/prisons, and schools.  

Seniors are a group of persons with disabilities often forgotten in discussions of sexual abuse.  Abuse can take place with a confused senior with dementia, or confused residents in care facilities who may be approached by other vulnerable residents, visiting spouses/partners, or occasionally, by care workers. Sexual abuse can also happen to competent seniors by spouses, partners, family members, or trusted people in their lives.


  • Sexual remarks about person with a disability in his/her presence (harassment)
  • Treating person as a sex object (ogling)
  • Sexual jokes 
  • Minimizing person’s feelings about his/her body 
  • Uncomfortable or unwanted touch
  • Withholding sex/affection
  • Need for affection expressed sexually
  • Sexual labels - such as “frigid” or “dried up”
  • Forcing sex when it causes pain or discomfort
  • Sex for purpose of hurting (use of objects/weapons)
  • Forced viewing of, or participation in pornography
  • Promiscuity
  • Forcing sexual activity when person has said ‘NO’ - or cannot say ‘NO’ because of disability, intoxication or influence of drugs
  • Use of threats to force sexual activity

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Psychological abuse is the infliction of mental or emotional anguish through humiliation, intimidation, or use of threats. Emotional abuse attacks a person’s feelings of self-worth and/or self-esteem. Use of verbal taunts, threats, insults, withdrawal of love/affection, or emotional support by the abuser over time affects how an individual with a disability feels about him/herself and is extremely detrimental to his/her well being.


  • Jokes about habits/faults/age disabilities
  • Overly familiar behaviour, e.g., use of word “dear” or other belittling references 
  • Speaking to third party rather than to the person
  • Treating adult with a disability as a child
  • Not looking at person with hearing loss - treating this as a disability
  • Disregard for the person’s feelings
  • Making decisions for him/her - e.g. person’s right to choose preferred food, clothing / maintain personal hygiene habits are denied 
  • Not keeping promises
  • Shouting - name calling
  • Repeated/targeted insults
  • Repeated humiliation in private and in public
  • Blaming person for all failings
  • Lying to person
  • Silence/shunning
  • Threatening violence/retaliation/isolation
  • Putting down person’s abilities
  • Alienating children/grandchildren towards person
  • Adult children moving home/living off (senior’s) limited income/assets
  • Repeated threats - to put person in a home/or hospital
  • Threatened/attempted suicide by abuser

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Both over-medication and under-medication are harmful. Persons with less well understood disorders, such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may visit several doctors seeking a more effective medication or more understanding/validation of their pain. Prescriptions may be filled at different pharmacies, making it difficult for a pharmacist to monitor drug interactions.  Caregivers may use medication to reduce their work load, having the person with a disability go to bed earlier, be more “cooperative” or easier to care for.

Extreme caution should be exercised in the care of a senior who might share medications with their spouse, or a close friend, not understanding the possible health implications. Some of the confusion seen in older persons may be due to medication rather than normal aging.

The possibility of medication abuse should be considered when a person’s behaviour or mental status changes suddenly, fluctuates, or when the person shows either excessive drowsiness or extreme agitation. Medication abuse may also be considered if the person’s normally controlled pain flares up without a medical explanation.  Medication abuse can be self-inflicted by the person with a disability, or inflicted by someone else, in charge of dispensing medications.


  • Person visits several doctors for same medical concern, and
  • Takes multiple medications for same problem prescribed by different physicians.
  • Medication given to make person more “co-operative” or “easier to care for”.
  • Use of someone else’s prescription, not understanding health implications of self-medicating.
  • Forgetting a prescription has already been taken, and
  • taking the same prescription again.
  • Medication addiction: taking more often or more than is prescribed, etc.


  • Person forgets to take prescribed medication, or
  • Insists prescription has already been taken.
  • Caregiver not aware of person’s medical needs.
  • Prescription runs out, and person forgets to renew it, or
  • Is unable to afford needed medication on a tight budget. 
  • Withholding of necessary medication by caregiver, or
  • Medication not administered when needed.

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Financial abuse or material exploitation is the improper use of, damage to, or loss of the resources or assets belonging to a person without his/her consent, for someone else’s benefit. The abuser is usually a spouse/partner, family member - often an adult child, caregiver, friend, or a trusted person in the person’s life. Financial abuse often accompanies other forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse, physical abuse, or denial of rights. Three factors are necessary for financial abuse to occur:

  • Need or Greed: the abuser is under financial pressure.
  • Opportunity: the abuser has access to funds or property.
  • False Sense of Entitlement: “I deserve it; I am owed.”


  • Belief that person with a disability does not need money or have a future
  • Theft of cash, credit cards, bank cards, mail
  • Cashing in RRSP’s without permission
  • Using the person’s bankcard to withdraw cash from an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) without their consent or knowledge.
  • Failure to repay loans or repeated borrowing
  • Using trickery or persuasion to get person’s money or possessions
  • Taking or withholding a pension or insurance cheque
  • Borrowing or taking possessions without permission
  • Selling the person’s property or possessions without permission
  • Forcing the person with a disability to change his/her Will or give a Power of Attorney
  • Misuse of Power of Attorney
  • Forging person’s name or altering a document
  • Establishing a “joint account” and using the person’s money without his/her knowledge or consent
  • Theft from accounts in a financial institution
  • Believing that the person’s assets, money or property should be yours
  • Forcing person to sign over house/car
  • Leaving person destitute

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Persons with disabilities and seniors may at some point need to give a family member or trusted friend a Power of Attorney. There are different types of Powers of Attorney and a Power of Attorney may be revoked at any time.


The purpose of a Power of Attorney is to give another person the authority to act on your behalf in matters relating to your health. The person “giving away” his or her authority is called the “donor” or the “principal”, and the person receiving this power may be referred to as the “attorney”.  He or she may be called on to make decisions that arise at the end stages of the “donor’s” life, and about all matters relating to personal property and finance.  The particulars of these powers vary somewhat from province to province.


For Personal Care:
A Power of Attorney for personal care, also known as a health care directive, is necessary so that the “donor’s” wishes regarding medical treatment, nutrition, safety, and shelter when he/she becomes incapacitated, will be carried out according to his/her written instructions and not on the basis of someone else's assumptions.

For Property:
A Continuing Power of Attorney for property will help to protect your financial affairs and assets from being taken over by a provincial public trustee.  In the event of your incapacitation, your family will have an easier time getting back control of your assets if they have your Continuing Power of Attorney.

The person you appoint as your “attorney” must follow the wishes and guidelines you lay out unless it is impossible to do so.


A Banking Power of Attorney is specific to one bank, one specific branch and for a specific account.

A Specific Power of Attorney allows the “attorney” to complete some specific task, such as to sell a piece of property or to write cheques on your behalf. It ends once the specific task has been completed.

A General Power of Attorney allows the “attorney” to make general decisions about property and finances. It ends on a date specified, or when the person becomes incapable, unless there is an enduring clause.

An Enduring Power of Attorney Clause allows the “attorney” to continue to act even if the person becomes mentally incapable. It ends when the person dies, or the court appoints someone else to manage their affairs.

If you are given this type of power to help a friend or family member...
you are in a position of trust and are expected to act in accordance with the wishes and best interests of that person.

A Power of Attorney is an important document, but it is also a tool that the “attorney” can misuse or abuse. Therefore, it is vital that both parties fully understand the legal issues, and know the consequences of abuse of this power.  Access to someone else’s assets can be a powerful motivation to greed. Some types of financial abuse, such as theft or fraud, are criminal offences.


  • Removing/selling assets, property, without permission
  • Using money without permission
  • Cashing in RRSP’s/RIF’s without permission
  • Using the person with a disability / senior’s bank card to make cash withdrawals from a bank machine without their consent
  • Using the person’s pension cheque, without permission, for one’s own needs

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Neglect is the often-deliberate failure of a caregiver to provide goods, services or other necessities, to avoid physical harm, mental anguish or mental illness. Neglect may take the form of abandonment, denial of food or health related services.

Neglect can be self-inflicted, due to the individual’s choice of lifestyle, depression, ill health, cognitive ability, or inability to care for self (self neglect).

Active neglect…
Is the intentional withholding of basic necessities or care.

Passive neglect…
Involves failure to provide basic necessities or care because of lack of experience, information, or ability.


  • Inadequate clothing
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Poorly maintained living environment
  • Poor physical appearance
  • Lack of food in cupboards/refrigerator
  • Withholding nutrition/fluids
  • Dehydration, malnutrition
  • Withholding medical services/treatment
  • Lack of comforts of living – i.e. radio, television, telephone
  • Insufficient medication
  • Lack of needed safety precautions – i.e. railings or ramps
  • Inattentive health care – i.e. untreated sores, lack of, or dirty bandages
  • Abandonment and/or confinement of person
  • Neglect, leading to hospitalization or death

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