Vulnerabilities and Risk Factors for Interpersonal Violence


Vulnerabilities and risk factors for experiencing IPV are conditions that increase the chances of becoming a victim. IPV. Women with disabilities face the same types of risk for IPV as other women including lower levels of education that reduce opportunities for employment, a history of childhood sexual abuse and neglect, financial stress, and other factors commonly known to place women at risk for IPV. Compared to women without disabilities, women with disabilities experience some additional disability-related risks. For example, a woman who uses a wheelchair faces physical barriers to getting away from a dangerous situation if escaping requires getting up or down stairs. Women with disabilities at greater risk of IPV due to any or a combination of the following disability-related factors (Hague et al., 2011; Nosek et al., 2001; Womendez & Schneiderman, 1991).

  • Dependence on abuser for personal assistance for essential activities such as eating and taking medications
  • Belief that abuse is the price to be paid for survival
  • Difficulty being believed
  • Less education (e.g., about sexuality, safety)
  • Social isolation that can separate a woman from the support of others
  • Communication limitations that prevent the reporting of abuse or calling for help
  • Fear that reporting abuse would result in loss of personal assistance, independence, or child custody
  • Inability to escape due to lack of adaptive equipment or accessible buildings
  • Increased exposure to medical settings where, for example, an assistive device is moved out of the reach of a woman or a provider touches a woman inappropriately during an exam.
  • Physical helplessness in public places
  • Learned understanding that abuse is normal behavior
  • Lack of financial independence
  • Abuser’s belief that the woman is powerless to defend herself and, therefore, easy prey
  • Abuser’s belief that there is less risk of the abuse being discovered
  • Not being able to see or hear an abuser approaching



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.

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. (n.d.) Risk factors for interpersonal violence.

National Domestic Violence Hotline (n.d.). Domestic Violence & People with Disabilities.

The Office of Women’s Health (n.d.) Violence against women with disabilities.



  • 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.
  • Hague, G., Thiara, R., & Mullender, A. (2011). Disabled women, domestic violence and social care: The risk of isolation, vulnerability and neglect. British Journal of Social Work, 41(1), 148-165.
  • Womendez, C., & Schneiderman, K. (1991). Escaping from abuse: Unique issues for women with disabilities. Sexuality and Disability, 9(3), 273–280.