Women with disabilities experience rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that are comparable to, if not greater than, women without disabilities. In addition, women with disabilities experience unique vulnerabilities to interpersonal violence.
Women are at risk for experiencing one or more of multiple forms of IPV (Ricci, 2017):
- Physical Violence – When someone hits, slaps, pushes, bites, chokes, throws objects, or otherwise physically harms another person’s body on purpose. It also includes being held down, locked in a room, locked out, or kept from where the person wants to go. Physical IPV is often accompanied by sexual IPV and usually involves emotional or psychological abuse.
- Sexual Violence – When someone forces sexual activity without permission (consent) from the other person. Examples are rape, unwanted touching/fondling, and oral/anal/vaginal penetration. Sexual violence includes forcing a victim to look at the abuser’s genitals (private parts) or taking naked pictures of another without the victim’s permission.
- Verbal Abuse - When someone repeatedly yells, insults, puts down or uses words to frighten, or control another person, and does not listen to a person who says “no.”
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse – When someone says or does things on purpose to hurt another person’s feelings. It can include someone telling repeated lies, showing extreme jealousy, excluding or ignoring the other person, or trying to keep the other person from friends and family.
- Victim Blaming – When someone holds another person responsible for being the victim of a sexual assault or other crime, therefore, suggesting that the violence was caused by the victim rather than the abuser.
- Threatening Behavior – When someone speaks or writes words aimed at making another person feel afraid such as, “You’ll be sorry.” Examples are threatening to harm or kill another person or their family members, pets, or service animals; or threatening to destroy the other person’s property.
- Stalking – When someone makes repeated contact that makes a person feel afraid or harassed. Someone may stalk another person by physically following them, calling too often, or sending unwanted emails, texts, or social media messages.
- Financial or Economic Abuse –When someone abuses another person’s money. Examples include stealing their money or their belongings, limiting another’s choice about how to spend their money, limiting someone’s knowledge about their money and financial situation, and using their credit card without permission.
In addition, women with disabilities are at risk for experiencing unique forms of IPV that would be unlikely if disability were not present in their lives (Nosek et al., 2001; Powers et al., 2009; Saxton et al., 2001).
- Disability-related Physical Violence - When an abuser physically restrains or confines a person with a disability, handles the person roughly while transferring or assisting in other ways, withholds or destroys their assistive devices (such as wheelchair or cane), withholds their transportation, takes a person in their wheelchair somewhere without their permission, refuses to provide assistance with important personal needs (such as eating or getting out of bed), harms one’s service animal, steals or prevents access to prescribed medications. It can also involve taking physical action to prevent a victim from obtaining help for the abuse.
- Disability-related Sexual Violence – When an abuser demands or forces sexual activity in return for help, takes advantage of another’s physical weakness and inaccessible environment to force sexual activity, or inappropriately touches a person with a disability while assisting with bathing and/or dressing.
- Disability-related Emotional Violence - When an abuser rejects or tells a person with disability that they “deserve” abuse because of their disability, uses disability as an excuse for the abuse, frightens the person by saying they will be sent to an institution if they do not do as told. It can also include making fun of the way a person moves or talks or saying that no one other than the abuser would ever love the person with a disability.
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 available in English and Spanish.
Safe. (n.d.). Power and Control Wheel: People with Disabilities in Partner Relationships. The Power and Control Wheel includes information on IPV against people with disabilities in partner relationships as related to power and control. Locate the Power and Control Wheel. View the full text of the Power and Control Wheel.
Visit our Interpersonal Violence Resources page for additional sources of help.
- Nosek, M.A., Foley, C.C., Hughes, R.B., & Howland, C.A. (2001). Vulnerabilities for abuse among women with disabilities. Sexuality and Disability. 19(3), 177-189.
- Powers, L. E., Renker, P., Robinson-Whelen, S., Oschwald, M., Hughes, R., Swank, P., & Curry, M. A. (2009). IPV and women with disabilities: Analysis of safety promoting behaviors. Violence Against Women, 15, 1040-1069.
- Ricci, S. S. (2017). Violence against women: A global perspective. Women’s Health Open Journal, 3(1), e1-e2.
- Saxton, M., Curry, M.A., Powers, L.E., Maley, S., Eckels, K., & Gross, J. (2001). "Bring my scooter so I can leave you": A study of disabled women handling abuse by personal assistance providers. Violence Against Women, 7(4), 393-417.