Caution is advised when citing the prevalence of violence against women with disabilities. Early studies tended to use highly heterogeneous samples, combining both genders, all disability types, and all ages. As a result, they reported that the rate of abuse among women with disabilities ranges from 31 percent to 83 percent, or double to quadruple the rate found among women in general.13-14 Most previous studies focused on people with cognitive impairments or developmental disabilities, a group that includes people with and without cognitive impairments. Our position is that violence issues, such as prevalence, risk factors, and interventions, vary to such a high degree across disability types (sensory impairment, physical impairment, psychiatric impairment, cognitive impairment), that it is best to focus on one group at a time and speak of findings for that group only. It is very difficult to generalize statistics to the population of women with disabilities as a whole.
In our national study comparing women with physical disabilities to women without disabilities,5-6,12 rates of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse were equally high in both groups. The prevalence of having ever experienced physical or sexual abuse was 52 percent for women both with and without disabilities. Important differences between the groups, however, were that women with disabilities reported a larger number of perpetrators, with the most common being intimate partners, followed by family members, and the duration of the abuse was longer. They were also more likely to experience abuse by attendants, strangers, and health care providers. Compared to women without disabilities, women with disabilities were more likely to report more intense experiences of abuse, including the combination of multiple incidents, multiple perpetrators, and longer duration.15
Based on excerpts from Nosek, M.A., Hughes, R.B., Taylor, H.B., Howland, C.A. (2004) Violence against women with disabilities: The role of physicians in filling the treatment gap. In: S.L. Welner and F. Haseltine (Eds.) Welner's Guide to Care of Women with Disabilities (pp. 333-345) Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia.
5. Nosek, M. A., Howland, C. A., & Young, M. E. (1997). Abuse of women with disabilities: Policy implications. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 8, 157-76.
6. Young ME, Nosek MA, Howland C, Chanpong G, Rintala DH. Prevalence of abuse of women with physical disabilities. Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 1997;78(12 Suppl 5): S-34-8.
12. Nosek MA, Howland CA, Rintala DH, Young ME, Chanpong GF. National study of women with physical disabilities: Final report. Sex Disabil 2001; 19(1):5-39.
13. Sobsey D, Doe T. Patterns of sexual abuse and assault. Sex Disabil, 1991; 9, 243-60.
14. Sobsey D. Violence and abuse in the lives of people with disabilities: The end of silent acceptance? Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 1994.
15. Nosek, M. A., Walter, L. J., Young, M. E., & Howland, C. A. Lifelong patterns of abuse experienced by women with physical disabilities (submitted). J Interp Viol, 2003.