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Domestic abuse and disability

Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non disabled women. Disabled women experience many of the same abusive behaviours as non-disabled women

However, disabled women may also experience other forms of control.

For example:

  • Your partner may withhold vital care, medication or food
  • Your partner may remove or damage of equipment such as sensory or mobility aids to limit your independence
  • If you have a visual impairment or mobility problems, your partner may create obstacles around the home so that you are afraid to move around
  • Your partner may claim disability benefits for you but won’t allow you access to the money
  • Your partner may use your disability to criticise or humiliate you. Or he may threaten to tell social services that you are not fit to live alone or that you can’t look after the children on your own
  • Your partner may touch you sexually in a way you don’t want when they are helping you or be very rough with you
  • Your partner may over medicate you or use physical restraints against you
  • Your partner may not allow you any privacy or space to be by yourself

Disabled women also face additional barriers to safety and support. For example:

  • Some disabled women may be more physically vulnerable than non- disabled women and may be less able to escape or protect themselves from violent attacks
  • Some disabled women may be more socially isolated as a result of their physical dependence on their partner
  • Some disabled women may feel nervous about leaving their partner if they have had special adaptations to their home.
  • Some women may also worry about who will care for them if they move away, or about a change to their care package in a new area that could leave them with less support

Sometimes the person who is abusing a woman is also disabled. Women who have experienced abuse from disabled men report difficulties in being taken seriously.

This is due to the myth that disabled people are vulnerable, and would not hurt anyone themselves. Abuse from a disabled person is never ok.

I think my friend is being abused, how do I bring up the subject?

It can take time for a woman to get to the point where she recognises she is being abused and even more time to get to a point where she feels safe to make decisions about what to do, you need to be patient with her.

  • If you want to approach her do it in a sensitive way, such as ‘I am worried about you because…’ ‘I’ve noticed that since you met…… you no longer do……’
  • Tell her what you’ve seen or heard and ask her how she feels don’t tell her how you think it should make her feel, don’t be nasty about her partner as this can make her feel she needs to stick up for them.
  • Let her know she is not alone that you know how hard it can be to talk about abuse but you are there when she wants to talk
  • Don’t judge her, let her know you believe her. Decisions women make are based on what they know when they have to make those decisions as relationships develop we learn more making women feel guilty for decisions they have made can build on feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Let her know that what is happening isn’t ok and that it’s not her fault, she’s not to blame
  • Don’t’ tell her she has to leave or end the relationship she has to come to this decision herself, telling her that her decisions are wrong can make her feel even more alone and make her less likely to talk to you

How can I help her to be safe?

  • Decide together what to do to make things safer, this can involve making a safety plan. As part of this you could agree a code word between you that she can use if she needs help.
  • Help your friend to feel good about herself, often domestic abuse leaves women feeling like they aren’t good at anything and can’t cope without their partner, letting her know that she is a good person and can do things for herself
  • Stick with her don’t let her partner drive you away and further isolate her, try to help her to build her outside contacts and support networks
  • Don’t speak to her partner about what is happening as this could put you and her in danger

Who else can help?

Let her know that there is help available, encourage her to speak to Women’s Aid, CAB, Doctor, Health Visitor or other support organisations.