Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
Did you know women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence than women without disabilities? We are also likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of the violence.
If you are have a disability, your abuser may also be your direct support professional or caregiver, and you may be reliant on that individual for personal care or mobility. You can be subject to physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence in any or all of the ways that women with disabilities are abused.
Women with disabilities:
• Have a rate of 85% of them as victims of domestic violence.
• Are raped, assaulted and abused at rates more than 2 times greater than women without disabilities.
• Often feel trapped in an abusive relationship because of their disability.
• Fear being institutionalized.
• May have low employment rates and wages.
• May have lower levels of education.
• May have higher instances of poverty rates.
• Experience higher rates of segregation in society.
• Suffer more prolonged and violent abuse than other battered women.
• Suffer more serious and chronic effects from the abuse.
Women with disabilities suffer:
• Verbal abuse
• Forced segregation
• Abandonment and neglect
• Withholding of medications, transportation, equipment and personal assistance services
• Physical and sexual violence
With a disability, you may have particular concerns about moving out of your home. Your home may have been specifically adapted for your needs, or particular services in the community have been put in place for you and you are worried you will lose your current level of independence if you leave. You may be reluctant to report domestic violence from a partner whose care you depend on in order to stay out of institutionalized care.
Still, do whatever is possible to seek help. If you do report the abuse, you may receive an inadequate or unhelpful response from service providers, but keep speaking out until you are heard. Many people find it hard to believe that women with disabilities experience domestic violence when we are more likely to be abused the more physically and emotionally dependent we are. They may be influenced by stereotypes which de-sexualize us, and regard the carer as a savior archetype. People you tell may see you as physically or emotionally vulnerable, and therefore cannot accept that violence has been used against you. “Who would do such an awful thing to poor you?” people may say. They may view your caregiver as beyond criticism, or believe the caregiver if he alleges that you are mentally unstable.
There may be little communication or effective partnership between those working in disability services and those working in domestic or rape crisis centers. Those who work in the human services field often know very little about domestic violence and tend to focus on a person with a disability’s impairments, rather than the possibilities of abuse that may occur. And, those who work in the domestic violence and rape crisis services may be poorly informed about the needs of women with disabilities.
You may be reluctant to report domestic violence if you do not feel confident you will be believed, heard or your concerns given credence. You may also think no one can help you and that there’s nowhere else for you to go. If you decide you want to leave your abuser, relocation support, temporary group care and other domestic violence services may not always be appropriate. Some accommodations may not be accessible, and you may need help with personal care or other needs -- such as sign language interpreters, transportation, alternative formats for filling out forms such as Braille, etc.
A number of domestic violence organizations now do provide for a range of disabilities, particularly intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many have outreach services or independent advocacy services which can help you. Many shelters now have wheelchair access, and workers can assist women and children who have special needs such as hearing or visual impairments.
For more information, seek help at the links below. Stop the abuse. Tell someone. You are worthy of help. You deserve to be kept safe and treated well. Get help now.