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Abuse denies a person with disabilities a safe place to live. Abuse towards children or vulnerable adults – whether emotional, financial, neglectful, physical, sexual, verbal – is harmful and once discovered, should be reported to the proper authorities. If you are aware of a person in imminent danger, start by calling 911.

Who is required to report incidents of suspected abuse?

In most states, people who work directly with children or vulnerable adults are legally required to report abuse to the proper authorities. In most cases, they will report instances of potential abuse to local police because they have noticed some indicator of abuse, or because a person has said they are in a situation that is harmful.

Professionals that are required to report abuse include:

  • Teachers and educators
  • School administrators
  • Physicians
  • Nurses and other medical professionals

Other adults that might report abuse include friends, family members and neighbors. Although they are not required to report abuse, they are often in the best position to file a police report. Generally, if there is a report of abuse, an investigation will take place. At that time, a person who reports the mistreatment will have the opportunity to tell an investigator about the abuse.

How can a person remove another from an abusive situation?

The first step to removing someone from an abusive situation is to report it to the authorities. In some cases, an interested person may decide against reporting the abuse to a police agency out of the fear that the victim might be expelled from his or her living arrangement. This is counterproductive because it denies a person with disabilities a place to live that is safe.

Depending on a child’s living situation, there are several methods by which abuse can be reported. If a child is in a situation that presents an imminent threat to him or her, don’t hesitate to call 911. However, if a person is sure there is abuse, but an investigation is needed, a better strategy might be to call the local police agency where the child – or adult, for that matter – lives.

As part of a police investigation, child protective services, or adult protective services, will be called in to assist in the probe and open a case file. This is a positive step because if wrongdoing is found, caseworkers can help identify a new living situation for a person, and help with other solutions.

People who wish to report abuse can contact protective services on their own, however. Depending on what state a person lives in, adult protective services may not have the authority to respond to medical institutions, but will be able to respond to group homes and state-licensed facilities. In most cases, protective services will refer complaints to local policing agencies.

Other agencies or individuals that can respond to abuse include:

  • State welfare offices
  • Child protection agencies

Agencies that can assist people in reporting abuse include:

  • Disabilities advocacy organizations
  • Civil rights groups

There are several hotlines that have been established to help people report abuse. They include:

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway, 800-394-3366
  • Prevent Child Abuse America, 312-663-3520
  • ChildHelp USA, (800) 692-4453

When reporting the abuse of a child or a vulnerable adult, a person should not be afraid to be persistent with authorities about investigating the situation. Don’t be afraid to bother other people, and if the situation is not rectified, don’t hesitate to pursue the matter further.

How can a person with disabilities, or an interested person, prevent abuse?

There are many strategies that can be used to head off abuse, and most of them begin with the child or adult themselves. Many times, a child’s assertiveness can hold off abuse; if a child projects confidence, it shows a potential abuser that the child has the physical and psychological resources to protect themselves, or find someone that can change the situation.

Preventing abuse begins with recognizing what is abusive. Education can play a significant role; if a vulnerable person understands the signs of abuse, he or she can sound an alarm, or ask for assistance.

Children and adults coping with abuse need to know:

  • How to project confidence and strength to the best of their ability
  • Whom to contact in cases of abuse
  • How to trust other people
  • What practices constitute abuse
  • What are, and are not, valid safety measures
  • When to tell others to back off

Interested adults can help head off abuse if they know:

  • How to assist a person in coping
  • Recognizing the signs of abuse
  • Knowing where to turn to help a person

Some practical steps can be taken to prevent abuse. They include:

  • Keeping an open line of communication
  • Conducting a background check on individuals who work with a person
  • Checking out facilities where a person may live
  • Making unannounced visits to facilities where a person lives
  • Keeping tabs on a person’s physical condition

Often, local organizations that serve people with disabilities offer training and information about abuse that parents can use. These seminars offer people with disabilities the tools they need to defend themselves from abusers. Other educational programs that can help a vulnerable person include those that offer age-appropriate sex education.

Sometimes, the simple message that a person doesn’t have to take abuse is enough to empower a person. Use those tools, today.


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