Boise State University professor Dr. Laura King joins Ruth Brown to discuss a recent research study about the victimization of people with disabilities in Idaho. King and her team surveyed service providers and offered recommendations to improve accessibility and service provision for people with disabilities and for victims of crime, abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Read: Serving Crime Victims with Disabilities
Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports: Hello and welcome to the Idaho Reports podcast. I’m producer Ruth Brown. This week, I’m joined by Dr. Laura King of Boise State University’s Department of Criminal Justice. We’re going to walk through some of the findings in a study published recently regarding service providers and disabled Idahoans. Thanks for joining me, Dr. King.
Laura King, Boise State University: Thank you for having me.
IR: Can you explain for listeners what initiated this study?
King: Sure. So back in 2021, myself and other researchers at Boise State – Dr. Lisa Bostaph, she’s the principal investigator, Dr. Lane Gillespie, and Dr. Jessica Wells – we engaged in a contract with the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities to conduct a three-year study examining a variety of aspects of victimization of people who have disabilities. So, we embarked on this study, as I said starting in 2021, and this is essentially part of the second year of the study where we surveyed service providers who encounter crime victims and people with disabilities to find out what kind of services are available to these populations.
IR: In the prior study, we did learn that unfortunately, the rate of abuse and violence disabled people face is pretty egregious – not just in Idaho, but nationwide. They are, I suppose, easy targets. Many service providers mentioned issues around retaining staff. Can you talk to me about some of that, and some of the other issues that the providers brought up?
King: Yes, absolutely. So, as you said, people who have disabilities are more vulnerable to criminal victimization. We know that nationally and here in Idaho as well. The findings from this survey indicated that service providers are aware of that. They are serving these populations, but they have a number of needs in terms of better being able to serve them. And as you mentioned, staffing is one of them. This is really an issue in victim service provision in general, being able to hire qualified staff, being able to retain them with a competitive rate. We see that was an issue here as well, both in terms of people who primarily serve people with disabilities as well as those who primarily serve crime victims, and really everyone in between, that kind of a lack of funding to retain qualified staff is a huge issue right now in serving these populations.
IR: Can you talk to me — I mean, the average person might not understand what a service provider is. What do some of these folks do? Who did you talk to?
King: In this survey, we really reached out to a wide array of folks to hopefully get as much information as we could. So, we reached out to crime victim service providers, this can include community-based agencies. For example, here in Boise we have the WCA, we have FACES, so we reached out to agencies like that except all across the state. We also have victim witness coordinators. They work for a police department or with the prosecutor’s office, and they interact with crime victims. So, we reached out to them as well. We also reached out to a variety of agencies that serve people who have disabilities. So, this could be advocacy groups, independent living centers, a variety of different folks who provide services to these populations. And then we also reached out to Health and Welfare, for example, and other social service providers. Anyone we could think of that might come into contact with crime victims who have disabilities, really.
IR: Training and language barriers were some of the key things they brought up. Can you walk me through that? What did you find?
King: Yeah. So, in terms of the language barriers, we asked the survey respondents if they provide services in other languages. Now, the majority said they did, but the percentage was around 63% I think that said that, yes, they provide services in other languages. So, I mean, that left almost 40% that did not, so we identified that as a potential barrier. So, we’re thinking here not only other spoken languages like Spanish, French, Russian, but also American Sign Language and being able to communicate with people who are nonverbal. So those are a variety of different language barriers that some service providers might encounter if they don’t have access to those resources.
IR: Can you talk to me just briefly about how the rates of abuse, neglect, and exploitation that individuals with disabilities, how does that compare to perhaps a group of individuals who do not have a disability? That was what I found most jarring, I think, in the last study. You may not have the numbers right in front of you, but can you walk me through it? How does that compare?
King: Yeah, So, so it’s really hard to get data on this, first of all, because a lot of people don’t report. So, we don’t necessarily have data from law enforcement because people aren’t reporting these crimes and they may not be getting services otherwise. Some folks with disabilities may not even be aware that they’re being abused, depending on the situation, or they may fear that reporting will actually make it worse. So, it’s really difficult to get exact numbers on this, but looking nationally, the National Crime Victimization Survey is probably our most reliable source of information for victimization. They do assess whether people have disabilities or not. Recent results found that people who have disabilities are more than four times more likely to be violently victimized than people who do not have disabilities. So, the rate in 2019 for people who have disabilities was 49.2 for 1000 people, compared to people without disabilities was 12.4 per 1000 people. So that is quite a difference.
The great thing about the National Crime Victimization Survey is that it surveys people across the U.S., and it doesn’t matter if they reported the crime to police or not. So, we’re getting information from those people who are not able to report the crime or choose not to report the crime, so that is one great thing about that data source. But I think it’s still an underestimation of how often this is occurring.
IR: There were some recommendations, progress that can be made. Can you walk me through a few of those? What are some recommendations from the survey?
King: Absolutely. So, one of the biggest ones was increased collaboration. So, we found there’s a lot of agencies across the state who serve crime victims with disabilities, or maybe only serve crime victims, or only serve people with disabilities. But we saw a lack of collaboration, and we know that resource shortage is an issue for serving these populations. So, our recommendation was to increase collaboration among these agencies to better enable resource sharing, so these agencies are aware of one another. Maybe this agency has these resources, this one has these, and they can share those resources as needed. So, we recommended establishing a network of providers in the state who serve crime victims who have disabilities.
We also recommended some local media campaigns to raise awareness about this issue and also to better advertise services. One thing we find with crime victimization in general is that a lot of people are not aware of the services that are available. A lot of times it’s not until you’re in the situation that you need to find out where the services are. So, raising awareness about where services are available is very useful. And then we also recommended a regional list of providers that would be accessible to the public. Anyone could go and say, “okay, I need this service. This is where I can go to get it.” Particularly for crime victims who have disabilities. So that collaboration was a big piece.
Training was another piece. In the survey we asked, do you require training for serving people with disabilities? And a lot of the agencies that respondents said they did, over half did. They also said we do have training, but we need more. We would really welcome any more training that you have available. So, on a variety of different topics, we specifically recommended for agencies that primarily serve people with disabilities, that they receive more training on serving crime victims as well. When a client comes to them and they find out they have been victimized, that agency needs to know what to do. How do they help that person? And likewise, agencies that serve crime victims, we’d like them to have more access to training on serving people with disabilities so that when they encounter those populations, they can better serve them.
We had a few other recommendations. Data collection was an issue. We found that a lot of the agencies – maybe, crime victim service providers, you know, their main goal is to serve crime victims. We found out that a lot of them do not track whether people have disabilities or not. So, again, it’s hard to figure out how big this problem is when agencies are not tracking the type of people that are serving. And same with people who primarily serve people with disabilities, a lot do not track whether those people have experienced crime. So, we recommended enhanced data collection to get a better idea of the prevalence of this issue in Idaho.
One recommendation as well within this realm was creating a statewide tracking system where agencies could input anonymous information, simply so that we can get a better idea of how big this issue is. So, they could say, I served a crime victim with this disability, not providing any identifying information about them, but just to get a better idea of how often this is occurring.
Then, funding is always a recommendation. We know that funding shortages are a huge problem, they’re resulting in staffing issues and other issues as well. We recommended seeking additional state funding as well as looking at other flexible funding sources to better serve crime victims who have disabilities.
IR: Last year when I spoke with some of the folks at the disabilities council, they were not necessarily as shocked as I was at some of the data. What do you think people should take away from this? Maybe the average listener, what should they understand about this issue?
King: Yeah, and I would have to say I wasn’t as shocked, but I was more shocked than I expected to be at how big of an issue this is and how little we really know about it.
King: The Council for Developmental Disabilities, they knew this was an issue. This is why they came to us. They wanted us to collect data and figure out how big of an issue this was. So I think just for the everyday Idahoan to be aware of these issues, and aware of the services too that are available, so that if someone came to them and mentioned that they experienced something like this, they’d be able to tell them, “Well, you can go over here and you can get these resources here.” I guess I would just say awareness is a really big issue. People are not aware of how common this is and how big of an issue it is, especially for people with disabilities who are more vulnerable to various forms of victimization.
IR: Is there anything the state can do?
King: Well, I guess that brings me back to funding. I think additional funding to support these great agencies that are serving these people who are surviving crimes and other forms of victimization. More funding for these agencies to be able to hire and to train and retain the staff they need to be able to provide the services they need.
Another thing we found was that some of the housing and shelter resources across the state are not necessarily ADA compliant, not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. So, some folks who have disabilities may not be able to access some of these housing and shelter resources, which can be really important in escaping situations of abuse. I would just say for the state, more funding for those who serve people with disabilities and for those who serve crime victims.
IR: Where can listeners find a copy of the survey? I know it’s published.
King: It is, so it is on our website. If they just type in Idaho Victimization Clearinghouse, it should be one of the first things that comes up. There is a link there for our research reports, so this report is available there as well as a number of other reports we’ve done in the state.
IR: Dr. King, thank you for your time and your work, and I appreciate it. All right.
King: Thank you so much for having me.