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Violence Against Women with Disabilities - Overview

Violence Table of Contents

Women with disabilities experience similar, if not greater, rates of emotional, physical, and sexual violence compared to non-disabled women; and they are more vulnerable to disability-related violence.

The reaction of the general public, medical professionals, and disability-related service providers to information about violence against women with disabilities is often one of shock and disbelief, as if they believe that disability is somehow a protective factor against this epidemic social problem. Advocates and researchers in the field of disability, on the other hand, are bringing to light case studies and statistics that point to disability as a risk factor for intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

  • Violence against women with disabilities (including women with physical, sensory, developmental, and other types of disabilities) occurs universally and relentlessly.
  • Violence is a very serious problem for women with disabilities. They have even fewer options for escaping or resolving the abuse than non-disabled women.
  • According to one study of nearly 1,000 women, the same percentage (62 percent) of women with and without disabilities had experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse over their lifetime.
    • In the same study of 1,000 women, women with disabilities experienced violence for longer periods of time and were victimized by a wider variety of perpetrators (i.e., attendants, adult child caregivers, spouses, etc.) than women without disabilities. Of the women with disabilities, 13 percent described experiencing physical or sexual abuse in the previous year.
    • In addition to the types of abuse experienced by all women, women with disabilities in this study were abused by the withholding of needed equipment (wheelchairs, braces), medications, transportation, or essential assistance with personal tasks, such as dressing or getting out of bed.
    • Women with disabilities face serious barriers to accessing existing programs to help women remove violence from their lives.
  • Women with disabilities who experience abuse may be more vulnerable to greater levels of stress and depression than those who have not experienced abuse.
  • Two brief abuse screening measures for women with disabilities have been developed and may prove to be helpful for identifying women with disabilities who are in abusive situations.
  • Violence has been associated with alcohol abuse in the general population. In an interview study, one woman with a disability shared that she and her husband both drank and slapped each other around. She said she did not realize that she was experiencing abuse until she became involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, and her sponsor made her aware that her marriage was abusive. She and her husband attended AA, and, within a short time, the abuse stopped. She was sober for 17 years at the time of the interview, and her husband had been sober for 15 years.
  • It is important that health professionals, rehabilitation counselors, and other service providers ask their clients about abuse and offer them resources for getting help.
  • Three directories on violence against women with disabilities have been published including one on disability-related services of battered women's programs, the second a guide for domestic abuse programs for intervention with women with disabilities, and the third an abuse guide for centers for independent living.
  • Safety planning intervention programs are being developed for preventing and reducing violence against women with disabilities. SafePlace in Austin, Texas, provides this kind of program (www.austin-safeplace.org).
  • CROWD has evaluated a pilot test of a one-hour safety planning program with 50 women with disabilities. Results were promising, but additional research on this program is recommended.
  • CDC has identified social isolation as a key factor that must be addressed when delivering violence-prevention interventions to women with disabilities.

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