Interpersonal violence against women with and without disabilities is considered a major public health problem associated with short-term and long-term health consequences, greater healthcare utilization, and death (Campbell, 2002; Ouellet-Morin et al., 2015; Nicolaidis et al., 2004; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). IPV can result in physical health symptoms and conditions such as broken bones, gastrointestinal disorders, head trauma and other physical injury, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, fatigue, and substance misuse. Women who survive IPV may experience emotional distress, depression, suicidality, sleep problems, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, IPV during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth, low weight newborns, and other adverse birth outcomes (World Health Organization, 2016).
Although there is considerable evidence on the health consequences of IPV in the general population of women, there is only a slowly growing understanding of those consequences in women with disabilities. There is evidence that low self-esteem, depression, difficulties living independently, worsening of health, and reduced ability to accomplish self-care activities and maintain personal health have been associated with IPV in women with disabilities (Hughes, Swedlund, Petersen, & Nosek, 2001; Nosek, Hughes, Swedlund, Taylor, & Swank, 2003; Nosek, Hughes, Taylor, & Taylor, 2006; Powers et al., 2002). In a study addressing IPV in adults with developmental disabilities, including women with physical developmental disabilities, abuse was linked with higher levels of psychological health symptoms (depression, PTSD), physical health symptoms, and secondary health conditions (Hughes et al., 2019). Physical violence and reproductive coercion (abusive behaviors that interfere with reproductive decision making) have been associated with unintended pregnancy in women with disabilities (Alhusen et al., 2020). More research attention is needed on the health consequences of IPV against women with disabilities.
We urge women with disabilities to contact their health provider to get help for IPV and its negative health consequences. Visit our Interpersonal Violence Resources page for detailed information on sources of help for IPV.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). Help is available in English and Spanish.
VAWnet (2020). Impact of domestic violence on health.
The Advocates for Human Rights (2018). Health effects of domestic violence.
National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.) Coping with Traumatic Events.
- Alhusen, J. L., Bloom, T., Anderson, J., & Hughes, R.B. (2020). Intimate partner violence, reproductive coercion, and unintended pregnancy in women with disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 13(2), 100849
- Campbell, J. C. (2002). Health consequences of intimate partner violence. The Lancet, 359, 1331-1336.
- Hughes, R. B., Lund, E. M., Gabrielli, J., Powers, L. E., & Curry, M. A. (2011). Prevalence of violence against community-living adults with disabilities: A literature review. Rehabilitation Psychology, 56(4), 302-319.
- Hughes, R. B., Swedlund, N., Petersen, N., & Nosek, M. A. (2001). Depression and women with spinal cord injury. Topics in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation, 7(1), 16–24.
- Nicolaidis, C., Curry, M., McFarland, B., & Gerrity, M. (2004). Violence, mental health, and physical symptoms in an academic internal medicine practice. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 19, 819-827.
- Nosek, M. A., Hughes, R. B., Swedlund, N., Taylor, H. B., & Swank, P. (2003). Self-esteem and women with disabilities. Social Science and Medicine, 56(8), 1737-1747.
- Nosek, M. A., Hughes, R. B., Taylor, H. B., & Taylor, P. (2006). Disability, psychosocial, and demo- graphic characteristics of abused women with physical disabilities. Violence Against Women, 12(9), 838–850.
- Ouellet-Morin, I., Fisher, H. L., York-Smith, M., Fincham-Campbell, S., Moffitt, T. E., & Arseneault, L. (2015). Intimate partner violence and new-onset depression: A longitudinal study of women’s childhood and adult histories of abuse. Depression and Anxiety, 32(5), 316–324.
- Powers, L., Curry, M.A., Oschwald, M., Saxton, M., Eckels, K. (2002). Barriers and strategies in addressing abuse: A survey of disabled women’s experiences. Journal of Rehabilitation, 68(1):4–13.
- Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the national violence against women survey. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.
- World Health Organization (WHO). (2016). Violence Against Women.