Did you know that...

Women with disabilities have a 40% greater chance of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities?

Women with disabilities may experience unique forms of abuse that are difficult to recognize—making it even harder to get the kind of help they need. Such abuse may include:

  • Removing or destroying a person’s mobility devices (e.g., wheelchairs, scooters, walkers)
  • Denying access to and/or taking prescribed medication from someone
  • Forcing someone to take medication against her will
  • Forcing someone to lie in soiled undergarments
  • Preventing access to food
  • Inappropriately touching a person while assisting with bathing and/or dressing
  • Denying access to disability-related resources in the community and/or to health care appointments
Did you know that...

Women with disabilities have a 40% greater chance of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities?

Women with disabilities may experience unique forms of abuse that are difficult to recognize—making it even harder to get the kind of help they need. Such abuse may include:

  • Removing or destroying a person’s mobility devices (e.g., wheelchairs, scooters, walkers)
  • Denying access to and/or taking prescribed medication from someone
  • Forcing someone to take medication against her will
  • Forcing someone to lie in soiled undergarments
  • Preventing access to food
  • Inappropriately touching a person while assisting with bathing and/or dressing
  • Denying access to disability-related resources in the community and/or to health care appointments
Types of abuse

Abuse is not always easy to identify, but it can help to learn about the different kinds of abuse:

  • Physical abuse (e.g., hitting, slapping, and/or restraining) 
  • Sexual abuse (e.g., forcing someone to engage in sexual acts) 
  • Verbal abuse (e.g., name calling, cursing) 
  • Emotional abuse (e.g., isolating someone from friends and family, humiliating or ignoring a person) 
  • Financial exploitation (e.g., taking and/or controlling a person’s money)
Where does abuse occur and by whom?

Abuse can occur anywhere—but more often when a woman has limited access to help or witnesses. Abusers can be:

  • Caregivers 
  • Family members 
  • Transportation providers 
  • Intimate partners 
  • Personal care attendants and other disability support providers
Getting help

Getting help and reporting the abuser is not easy. Women with disabilities often do not report their abuser because: 

  • Signs of abuse may not be apparent to others 
  • They may feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed 
  • They may fear losing their home or independence, especially if the abuser is the caregiver and/or intimate partner 
  • They may not know where to get help—or help may not be easy to get
  • Communication barriers may stand in the way, especially for deaf women
  • Service providers often have limited knowledge about disability needs and abuse 
  • The abuser may be well known and respected
What can you do

If you know someone who is being abused or if you are being abused, it is important to know that there is HELP. But you may need to be open to a team approach to help you connect with local agencies addressing both disability and abuse.

Organizations that can help

Consider the following national organizations that may be able to refer you to local resources:

What you can do to help yourself
  • Connect with supportive and caring people, not those who might blame you for the abuse.
  • Secure a restraining or protective order if necessary—it prohibits an individual from harassing, threatening, approaching, accosting, or even contacting you. Always keep it with you. 
  • Seek help from a psychologist or other licensed mental health provider; contact your doctor or other primary health care provider; engage the services at centers or shelters for battered women.
Safety planning

If possible, have a phone handy at all times and know what numbers to call for help.

  • Don’t be afraid to call the police.
  • Pack a bag (include money, an extra set of keys, copies of important documents, extra clothes and medicines) and leave it in a safe place or with someone you trust. Don’t forget to consider critical disability-related devices and/or aids.
  • Let trusted friends and neighbors know of your situation, and develop a plan and visual signal for when you need help.
  • Teach your children how to get help. Instruct them not to get involved in the violence between you and your partner. Plan a code word or sign to signal to them that they should get help or leave the house.
  • Practice how to get out safely. Practice with your children.
Resources
References
  • Andrews, A.B., & Veronen, L.J. (1993). Sexual assault and people with disabilities. In R.W. Mackelprang & D. Valentine (Eds.), Sexuality and disabilities: A guide for human service practitioners. (pp. 137-159). New York: The Haworth Press, Inc.
  • Goodman, L., Salyers M., Mueser, K., Rosenberg, S., Swartz, M., Essock, S., Osher, F., Butterfield, M., & Swanson, J. (2001). Recent victimization in women and men with severe mental illness: Prevalence and correlates. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14: 615-632. DOI 10.1023/A:1013026318450.
  • Goodman, L. A., Dutton, M. A. and Harris, M. (1995), Episodically homeless women with serious mental illness: Prevalence of Physical and Sexual Assault. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 65: 468–478. doi: 10.1037/h0079669
  • Hassouneh-Phillips, D., & McNeff, E. (2005). “I thought I was less worthy”: Low sexual and body esteem and increased vulnerability to intimate partner abuse in women with physical disabilities. Sexuality and Disability, 23, 227-240. doi: 10.1007/s11195-005-8930-3.
  • Kaufman, M., Silverberg, C., & Odette, F. (2003). The ultimate guide to sex and disability: For all of us who live with disabilities, chronic pain, and illness. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press.
  • Mitra, M., Mouradian, V. & Diamond, M. (2011). Sexual violence against men with disabilities.
  • American Journal of Preventive Medicine . Volume 41, Issue 5 , 494-497.
  • Mona, L.R., & Gardos, P.S. (2000). Disabled sexual partners. In L.T. Szuchman & F. Muscarella (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on human sexuality (pp. 309-354). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Nosek, M.A., Clubb Foley, C., Hughes, R.B., & Howland, C.A. (2001). Vulnerabilities for abuse among women with disabilities. Sexuality and Disability, 19, 177-189. doi: 10.1023/A:1013152530758. 
  • Nosek, M.A. & Howland, C. (1997). Sexual abuse and people with disabilities. In M.L. Sipski & C.J. Alexander (Eds.), Sexual function in people with disability and chronic illness (pp. 577-594). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.