Violence against women with disabilities shares common characteristics with violence against women in general . Women with disabilities also experience forms of abuse that women without disabilities do not. Violence against women and girls with disabilities is not just a subset of gender-based violence – it is an intersectional category dealing with gender-based and disability-based violence. The confluence of these two factors results in an extremely high risk of violence against women with disabilities.
Women with disabilities experience a wider range of emotional, physical and sexual abuse: by personal attendants and by health care providers, as well as higher rates of emotional abuse both by strangers and other family members . They also can be prevented from using a wheelchair, cane, respirator, or other assistive devices.
There remains almost no literature regarding the risk of abuse, women’s experiences of abuse, and barriers to seeking help among women with disabilities. The absence of attention to this issue from both disability and violence researchers has contributed to the ‘invisibility’ of the victimization of women with disabilities ”.
High rates of violence
- A DAWN-RAFH Canada study found that although 1 out 5 of all Canadian women live with a disability , 40% of respondents had experienced some form of violence in their lives.
- Another study indicated that 60% of women with disabilities are likely to experience some form of violence in the course of their adult lives.
- Considering all violent crimes, including those committed by spouses, a Canadian study shows 51% of women with activity limitations had been victims of more than one violent crime during the 12 preceding months compared to 36% of women without limitations.
- Disabled women are at risk of violence in many forms – neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and financial exploitation.
- Women and girls with disabilities are at a high risk of experiencing gender-based and other forms of violence due to social stereotypes that often serve to reduce their agency by infantilizing, dehumanizing and isolating them, making them vulnerable to various forms of violence, including institutional violence.
- Persons with mental or behavioural disabilities experience personal victimization at a rate four times that of the rate of people who have none.
- Women with disabilities are exposed to additional risks of abuse by caregivers who provide services specifically related to her disability.
- Women with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence related to alcohol or drug use than are men with disabilities.
- Women with disabilities experience sexual violence in various forms such as; violations of privacy, restraint, strip searches, and solitary confinement that replicate the trauma of rape, rape by staff and other inmates/residents of institutions, forced abortion and forced sterilization.
- In a study comparing the rates of instances of sexual and physical assault among women with and women without disabilities, it was determined that women with disabilities were four times more likely to have experienced a sexual assault than women without disabilities.
Intimate partner violence: A hidden reality
- Investigators rarely assume that disabled women have intimate partners, so IPV (intimate partner violence) often goes undetected.
- Persons with disabilities were between 50% and 100% more likely than those without disabilities to have experienced violence by a spouse.
- Male partners of women with disabilities were about 2.5 times more likely to behave in a patriarchal dominating manner and about 1.5 times more likely to engage in sexually proprietary behaviours than were male partners of women without disabilities.
Barriers to reporting abuse
- There are various barriers that specifically affect women with disabilities such as; difficulty in making contact with shelters or other intervention services, lack of access to information about available services, difficulties in accessing transportation, fear of losing their financial security, their housing or their welfare benefits and fear of being institutionalized.
- Women with disabilities are less likely to report being victims of violence than men with disabilities (49% of incidents concerning men are reported while only 30% of women reported incidents).
- Women with disabilities might fear they will not be believed or perceived as not credible by the police or the courts, or that there will not be appropriate services available.
- When the violence is perpetrated by personal assistants, family members and/or friends, it is often considered to be a problem that can be addressed by the social service system rather than considered to be a crime that should be addressed by the police and/or the criminal justice system . In situations in which domestic violence is experienced, women with disabilities may fear leaving their abuser because of dependence of the emotional, financial or physical variety and fear of losing custody of their children may prevent women with disabilities from reporting abuse.
- When an incident was reported, persons with disabilities were more likely than persons without limitations to say they were very dissatisfied with the police response (39% compared to 21%).
- Law enforcement authorities may not take appropriate action to respond to reports of violence against women and girls with disabilities and women with disabilities may avoid reporting instances of abuse in order to avoid discriminatory action, retribution, potential institutionalization or loss of economic and other supports.
- Women with disabilities who are from indigenous or rural communities may lack information about access to available services for the prevention and response to violence and abuse. The process may be slower for a woman with a disability who is considering leaving her abusive partner as accessing housing, attendant care, and interpreters may take time .
- One woman out of ten got the support she asked for at women’s shelters or transition houses . When they do not receive proper support, it is often for accessibility reasons.
- Only about one-quarter (22%) of shelters provided TTY/TDD equipment (i.e., specially equipped telephones) for people who are hearing impaired; 17% provided sign language or interpretation services, 17% provided large print reading materials to people who are visually impaired and 5% provided Braille reading materials.