Meta analysis suggests adults with disabilities are at greater risk of violence than adults without disabilities


People with disabilities are reported to be at increased risk of violence. Mencap’s stand by me campaign  to end disability hate crime suggested that as many as 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability have been a victim of hate crime and bullying.

The authors of this review and meta analysis set out to provide a quantitative syntheses of studies to attempt to quantify violence against adults with disabilities.

12 electronic databases were searched to identify primary research studies published between 1990 and 2010 which reported prevalence estimates of violence against adults with disabilities, or reported their risk of violence compared with non-disabled adults. The researchers only included studies that relate to people who have experienced violence in the last year as there are significant difficulties with using lifetime risk of violence figures

The authors found that over 10,000 references, but only 26 studies were eligible for inclusion. These 26 studies provided data for 21,557 individuals with disabilities.  They were able to use data from 21 studies for the meta-analysis of the prevalence of violence, and data from 10 of the studies were used for the meta-analysis of the risks of violence.

The analysis showed looked at pooled prevalence -the proportion of individuals with a characteristic of interest estimated from the testing of pooled samples.

Pooled prevalence of any recent violence was

  • 24.3% (95% CI 18.3—31.0) in people with mental illnesses
  • 6.1% (2.5 -11.1) in those with intellectual impairments
  • 3.2% (2.5—4.1) in those with non-specific impairments.

Pooled crude odds ratios for the risk of violence in disabled compared with non-disabled individuals were:

  • 1.50 (95% CI 1.09—2.05) for all studies combined
  • 1.31 (0.93—1.84) for people with non-specific impairments
  • 1.60 (1.05—2.45) for people with intellectual impairments
  • 3.86 (0.91—16.43) for those with mental illnesses.

These findings suggest that adults with disabilities are at a higher risk of violence than non-disabled adults,being approximately 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence.

The authors point out that the available studies do have methodological weaknesses with gaps in the types of disability and violence addressed. There are also gaps in the literature relating to studies from low and middle-income countries. However this analysis confirms the high risk of violence and specifically identifies the is associated with different types of disability.

Prevalence and risk of violence against adults with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, Hughes K et al., in The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 28 February 2012

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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