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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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1. Queens University
2. Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs
4. Canadian Womens.org