Women are persistently at a high risk for domestic and intimate partner violence due to such factors as a male predatory behavior, twisted power and control dynamics, pervasive rape culture, revictimization by systems, and more. The YWCA reports that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury for women ages 15-44. However, for as many statistics, stories and setbacks that are discussed, domestic violence is still hard to acknowledge for many people.
It is often assumed that the abused is a functional woman with full liberty of her mind and body, choosing to remain in unimaginable circumstances. I now challenge you to think about women who literally cannot leave because of a physical or cognitive impediment. These women, often ignored or overlooked, are women with disabilities. This obscurity exacerbates their vulnerability. Both the NCADV and the YWCA report that disabled women have a 40% greater risk of suffering from intimate partner violence, and that over 80% of women with disabilities have been sexually assaulted.
People with disabilities have so many battles to face as they navigate many obstacles. According to the NCADV, 70-80% of abuse cases go unreported by female victims with disabilities. It is important that advocates and agencies take extra precautions to ensure that disabled women experience a sense of safety and security by paying attention to settings that may serve as breeding grounds for predators ready to exploit those who cannot protect themselves.
Moreover, for many women with disabilities, their support systems can be minimal, so holding individuals accountable who prey on disabled women is paramount. We cannot blindly believe that all caretakers, guardians, or family members have a kind heart. The YWCA reports that 97-99% of abused disabled women are by someone they know and “trust.” For this particular demographic, it really does take a village to help ease the burden they carry of being sitting targets for those who want to take advantage.
Additionally, due to their insidious activity, abusers of disabled women are able to fly under the radar. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some of the subtle ways that women with disabilities are abused are:
- Accusing victims that they are faking their disability; refusing to help
- Withholding medication
- Stealing Social Security Disability checks
- Implanting shame and humiliation
- Not “allowing” them to have pain flare-ups
Life is very unpredictable. A disability can happen to any of us, at any time. It is crucial that women with disabilities and their specific needs exist as an integral part of the larger conversation as it relates to caretaking, advocacy, law enforcement and legislative initiatives. Dismantling the barriers to seeking services is key. With respect, proper training and communication skills, customized safety plans, and caretaker checks and balances, we can become their voice and better protect disabled victims from domestic and intimate partner violence.
Want to learn more about how you can advocate for women with disabilities? Read more from the Adult Protective Services (APS) at https://ncea.acl.gov/NCEA/media/publications/APS-Fact-Sheet.pdf
Written by Shawn Guy, Conference Program Manager for the Conference on Crimes Against Women.