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Considerations for Disabled Persons

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. 

Who abuses persons with disabilities?

People they know

Persons with disabilities, like other victims of family violence, are most often abused by people they know. This may be a caregiver in the person's residence, a spouse or common-law partner, another family member, or a professional with whom they have some contact as a patient or client. Sometimes abuse goes both ways as in some cases, abuse is directed by one person against another, and in other cases, parties are abusive of one another. 

What are the signs that a person may be sexually abused?

  • Stained, torn clothing or underclothing.
  • A significant change in sexual behaviour or attitude.
  • Pain while walking or sitting without a logical explanation.
  • Emotional distress.
  • Child-like behaviour.
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Four of many reasons why persons with disabilities may be more at risk

1. The disability itself 

Abuse is more likely to happen in circumstances where some people have more power than others. A disability may increase the perceived difference in power between two people. Different type of disabilities create different potential for the dynamics of abuse. For example:

  • a person who has limits in moving physically may be less able to escape a violent situation;
  • a person who has a hearing impairment may be able to escape, but then encounter communication barriers when seeking help;
  • a person who has a developmental disability may find it takes longer to understand that someone is abusing them.

2. Myths and stereotypes about persons with disabilities 

Myths about persons with disabilities could increase the risk of abuse. For example, if someone believes that persons with disabilities are helpless or child-like, that person might think it is appropriate to deprive a person with a disability the freedom to make choices, be independent, participate fully in society and be accountable for decisions. A person who believes that someone with disabilities is less worthwhile than others may also believe it is acceptable to abuse a person with disabilities. 

3. Dependency 

Some persons with disabilities rely on others for care. Caregivers may be family members or paid caregivers. Assistance may include personal care such as bathing and getting dressed, and health care such as administering medication and hygiene routines. Caregivers may be in the home most of the time or only for a few hours a few times a week.

Dependency on others for care can create a culture of compliance in which persons with disabilities believe they need to accept the direction and preferences of other people. Persons with disabilities may be afraid to challenge a caregiver who is abusive because they are afraid to lose the care.

4. Isolation 

Having a disability may increase barriers to being included in social activities with other people. Chances of abuse are greater when someone is socially or physically isolated. The obstacles that people with a disability face may include inaccessible buildings, lack of accessible transportation and negative stereotypes. This means that persons with disabilities may be less likely to work, go to school, run their own errands, take part in social events, or generally be visible to others. Under these circumstances, if someone is being abused, it may be weeks or months before it is detected. 

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 crime that should be addressed by the police and/or the criminal justice system. 
  • 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. 

Click here to read more.


1. Queens University 

Factsheet: Women with Disabilities and Violence

2. Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs 

Disability Community


Sexual Abuse of People with Disabilities

4. Canadian Womens.org

Violence Against Women with Disabilities