Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence than non-disabled women (1995 British Crime Survey, also confirmed by data from other countries). They are also likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of the violence.
If you are disabled, your abuser may also be your carer, or your personal assistant (P.A.) and you may be reliant on him/her for personal care or mobility. You can be subject to physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence in any or all of the ways that non-disabled women are abused, but in addition you may experience the following forms of abusive behaviour:
- Your abuser may withhold care from you or undertake it neglectfully or abusively.
- Your abuser may remove mobility or sensory devices that you need for independence.
- Your abuser may be claiming state benefits in order to care for you - enabling him to control your finances more effectively.
- Your abuser may use your disability to taunt or degrade you.
If you are experiencing domestic violence and you are disabled, you may find it harder to protect yourself or to access sources of help.
- You may be more physically vulnerable than a non-disabled woman.
- You may be less able to remove yourself from an abusive situation.
- You may be socially isolated both because of your disability and as a result of your abuser's control of your social relationships.
- You may find it harder to disclose abuse because you have no opportunity to see health or social care professionals without your abuser being present.
If you are disabled, you may have particular concerns about moving out of your home: it may have been specially adapted for you, or perhaps a care package has been organised and you are worried that you will lose your current level of independence if you are forced to move elsewhere. You may be reluctant to report domestic violence from a partner whose care you depend on, and which you believe enables you to stay out of institutional care.
If you do report the abuse you are experiencing, you may receive an inadequate or unhelpful response from service providers. Many people find it hard to believe that disabled women experience domestic violence. They may be influenced by stereotypes which (for example) de-sexualise the disabled person, and regard the carer as akin to a saint. They may see you as physically or emotionally vulnerable, and therefore be unable to accept that violence has been used against you. They may view your carer as beyond criticism, or believe him if he alleges that you are mentally unstable.
There may be little communication or effective partnership between those working in disability organisations and those working for domestic violence services. Those who work in the disability field often know little about domestic violence and tend to focus on a disabled person's impairments, rather than any abuse she may have experienced; and those who work in the domestic violence sector may be ill-informed about the needs of disabled women.
As a disabled woman, you may be regarded as a “vulnerable adult”, and in this case, the multi-agency Policies and Procedures for the safeguarding and protection of vulnerable adults will apply. All areas have had to develop these Policies and Procedures following on from the publication of the Government’s No Secrets guidance. The criteria for being defined as a “vulnerable adult” vary from area to area – but if you do fit the criteria set in your area, than all agencies (both statutory and voluntary) have to follow these procedures.
You may be reluctant to report domestic violence if you do not feel confident you will be believed or that your concerns will be taken seriously. You may also think that there is little that anyone can do, and nowhere for you to go. If you decide you want to leave your abuser, refuge-based support and other domestic violence services may not always be appropriate. Some refuge accommodation may not be accessible, and you may need help with personal care or other needs (such as sign language interpreters or transport).
A number of domestic violence organisations now do provide for a range of disabilities. Many have outreach services or independent advocacy services which can help you. Many refuges now have full wheelchair access, and workers who can assist women and children who have special needs such as hearing or visual impairments, and some Women's Aid organisations offer BSL interpreters. For more information, you should contact the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge.
Dial UK: Refers callers to their local service which can offer information on a wide range of disability issues for people with disabilities, their carers and professionals. Helpline 01302 310 123, Monday - Thursday 9am - 5pm; Friday 9am - 4pm. Email: enquiries@DIALuk.org.uk
. Website: www.dialuk.org.uk
This section of the UK Disability Forum website
gives Information for disabled women about getting help to tackle violence and abuse.
UK Disability Forum: This section of the UK Disability Forum website gives information for disabled women about getting help to tackle violence and abuse. Website: www.edfwomen.org.uk/abuse.htm
Disability Alliance: Disability Alliance has had to close their helpline due to lack of funding. It is the leading authority on social security benefits for disabled people, and the website contains regularly updated information about benefits, tax credits and community care. Website: www.disabilityalliance.org
RNIB helpline: Information and support for anyone with visual impairment and sight problems. Phone: 0845 766 9000, Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
. Website: www.rnib.org.uk
RNID helpline: Information service for deaf and hard of hearing people, their carers, families and professionals. Phone: 0808 808 0123, Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm. Email: email@example.com
. Website: www.rnid.org.uk