Return to Table of Contents / Previous Article / Resources


Power and Control Wheel: A Tool for Recognizing Abusive Behavior

The following wheel is adapted with permission from one developed by the Domestic Violence and Developmental Disabilities Committee of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities. Based on a wheel developed in Duluth, Minnesota, by formerly battered women to describe their experiences, this wheel illustrates forms of abuse experienced by persons with developmental disabilities abused by their paid caregivers. It offers a way to think more broadly about abuse than physical or sexual abuse only.

A. Coercion & Threat: Threatening to hurt the person, withhold basic support and rights, terminate relationship and leave the person unattended, report noncompliance with the program, use more intrusive equipment. • Using consequences and punishments to gain compliant behavior. • Pressuring the person to engage in fraud or other crimes.

B. Intimidation: Raising a hand or using other looks, actions, gestures to create fear. • Destroying property and abusing pets. • Mistreating service animals. • Displaying weapons.

C. Caregiver Privilege: Treating person as a child, servant. • Making unilateral decisions. • Defining narrow, limiting roles and responsibilities. • Providing care in a way to accentuate the person’s dependence and vulnerability. • Giving an opinion as if it were the person’s opinion. • Denying the right to privacy.
• Ignoring, discouraging, or prohibiting the exercise of full capabilities.

Power and Control Wheel


D. Isolation: Controlling access to friends, family and neighbors. • Controlling access to phone, TV, news. • Limiting employment possibilities because of caregiver schedule. • Discouraging contact with the case manager or advocate.

E. Minimize, Justify, & Blame: Denying or making light of abuse. • Denying physical and emotional pain of people with disabilities. • Justifying rules that limit autonomy, dignity, and relationships for program’s operational efficiency. • Excusing abuse as behavior management or caregiver stress. • Blaming the disability for abuse. • Saying the person is not a “good reporter” of abuse.

F. Withhold, Misuse, or Delay Needed Supports: Using medication to sedate the person for agency convenience. • Ignoring equipment safety requirements. • Breaking or not fixing adaptive equipment. • Refusing to use or destroying communication devices. • Withdrawing care or equipment to immobilize the person. • Using equipment to torture people.

G. Economic Abuse: Using person’s property and money for staff’s benefit. • Stealing. • Using property or money as a reward or punishment in a behavior program. • Making financial decisions based on agency or family needs. • Limiting access to financial information and resources resulting in unnecessary impoverishment.

H. Emotional Abuse: Punishing or ridiculing. • Refusing to speak and ignoring requests. • Ridiculing the person’s culture, traditions, religion and personal tastes. • Enforcing a negative reinforcement program or any behavior program the person doesn’t consent to.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence Newsletter (Winter 1996/97), 15(4). Published from Madison, Wisconsin. 608/255-0539.


Return to Table of Contents / Previous Article / Resources

Resources: Resources Related to Violence Against Women with Developmental and Other Disabilities


Citation: Abramson, W., Emanuel, E., Gaylord, V., & Hayden, M. (Eds.). (2000). Impact: Feature Issue on Violence Against Women with Developmental or Other Disabilities, 13(3) [online]. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available at


The print design version (PDF, 448K, 28 pp.) of this issue of Impact is also available for free, complete with the color layout and photographs. This version looks the most like the newsletter as it was printed.

College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity employer and educator.