A 1992 survey by the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities made it clear that abuse is a serious problem for women with disabilities.
Women with physical disabilities who responded to the survey experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse just as often as the women without disabilities who responded. 62 percent of the women with physical disabilities had experienced abuse at some time during their life, and 13 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse during the year prior to the survey.
Women with physical disabilities reported being abused by spouses, live-in partners, other family members, people whom they were dating, health care professionals, and personal attendants.
Women with disabilities who are being abused encounter disability-related problems in dealing with the abuse:
They fear reporting the abuse because they rely on the person who is abusing them for personal assistance and/or financial support. They fear losing their independence if they cannot find a replacement for the abusive care provider.
Women with disabilities experience abuse related to their disability, such as withholding assistive devices, medications, or personal assistance.
Women who need to enter a domestic violence shelter sometimes have trouble obtaining a personal assistant while they are in the shelter. They may lose assistive devices and medications because they have to leave home quickly in a crisis.
Independent living centers may be an initial point of contact for women with disabilities experiencing abuse. ILC staff are in a unique position to offer counseling and referral for their consumers who are being abused. A 1998 survey of independent living centers, conducted by the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, found that some ILC's are offering a number of services to assist women with disabilities who are experiencing abuse:
Most ILC's that responded to the survey thought the most effective approach to addressing abuse of women with disabilities was a strong collaborative relationship with local abuse intervention programs, such as domestic violence shelters and sexual assault programs.
The service that ILC's offered most frequently was referral to local abuse intervention programs. ILC's have worked with these programs to improve their accessibility to women with disabilities. They have also helped to provide personal assistants to women who are in shelters or who need respite care due to an abusive care provider.
Many of the ILC's in the survey are addressing abuse issues through their individual and group counseling services.
ILC staff sometimes offer to train staff of abuse intervention programs on the needs of women with disabilities, and invite abuse program staff to train ILC staff on abuse issues.
Ten Things Independent Living Centers Can Do To Assist Women With Disabilities Who Are Experiencing Abuse
- The Center for Research on Women with Disabilities has produced a poster on abuse of women with disabilities. You may request a copy of this poster, which has space to add information on how to contact local abuse intervention programs.
- Screen for abuse when doing intakes with your consumers, using the Abuse Assessment Screen-Disability.*
- Incorporate abuse safety planning as part of your peer counseling services.*
- If you have a resource library for consumers, include resources on emotional, physical and sexual abuse.*
- Become familiar with abuse intervention services offered in your community, and how accessible the services are to people with disabilities, so that you can refer consumers to these services.
- Assist women in locating alternative attendant services when the person providing their care has been abusive.
- Invite staff of abuse intervention programs to train your staff on abuse issues.
- Offer to train abuse intervention staff on disability issues.
- Collaborate with abuse intervention programs to train other service providers, such as law enforcement and medical and social service professionals, on the particular needs of women with disabilities who are experiencing abuse.
- Collaborate with domestic abuse shelters to provide personal assistants to women with disabilities staying there and to replace medications and assistive devices left behind when women leave home due to abuse.