An often overlooked and underrepresented population among domestic abuse victims are those with disabilities. Services are limited or non-existent and many facilities are non-ADA compliant. This means that victims seeking safety will stay longer in abusive relationships.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has amassed statistics that are startling:

  1. People with disabilities have a higher lifetime prevalence of experiencing abuse than people without disabilities.
  2. People with disabilities experience violent crime at twice the rate of people without disabilities.
  3. People with disabilities are three times as likely to be sexually assaulted as are their peers without disabilities.
  4. In 2008, intimate partners perpetrated 27% of violent crime against women with disabilities and 1.1% of crime against men with disabilities.
  5. Police are less likely to respond to reported violence against victims with disabilities than they are to reported violence against victims without disabilities. Police respond to 90% of reports by victims without disabilities and 77% of reports by victims with disabilities.
  6. A survey conducted by the Spectrum Institute Disability and Abuse Project found that 70% of respondents with disabilities experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner, family member, caregiver, acquaintance or stranger. Of those …
    * 87.2% experienced verbal/emotional abuse
    * 50.6% experienced physical abuse
    * 41.6% experienced sexual abuse
    * 37.4% experienced neglect
    * 31.5% experienced financial abuse
    * 37.3% reported the abuse to law enforcement
    * Alleged perpetrators were arrested in 10% of abuse cases reported to law enforcement. (1)

The abuse endured by victims with disabilities look very similar to those in heterosexual relationships:

  • Verbal and emotional abuse
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Deprived of equipment such as wheelchairs, canes, walkers that make getting around possible
  • Withholding medication
  • Neglect
  • Abusing or threatening service animals

It should not be overlooked that men with disabilities can also be abused. Similar to women victims, men are more likely to be stalked and psychologically abused than men without disabilities.

It also a fact that abuse can create the disability. Many victims who endure head injuries may not only suffer from concussions, but may also have ruptured eardrums and lose their hearing.

Victims can also suffer financial abuse, including have their Social Security checks withheld or money stolen.

Victims can also have doctor’s appointments cancelled or not made. Abusers may give incorrect dosages of medication. In these instances, abusers will blame the victim for these “mistakes”.

Abusers will threaten to “out” the victim if disabilities are not visible; victims with emotional disabilities will be threatened with this “outing”.

“In 2013, the rate of violent victimization against persons with disabilities was at least double the rate for those without disabilities for every age group measured except those 65 and older.” (2)

“Survivors have barriers to seeking support from outside sources, including isolation, lack of communication devices and interpretation, lack of transportation, lack of privacy, community spaces that are architecturally inaccessible, and societal attitudes about disability.” (3)

How can family and friends help?

  • Believe victims
  • Don’t make assumptions about people’s disabilities
  • Find services that can accommodate victims with disabilities
  • Assist in safety planning and finding resources

Sources:

(1) National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Domestic Violence and People with Disabilities: What to Know, Why It Matters, and How to Help.

(2) YWCA. (2017). Survivors with disabilities facts.

(3) Ibid.