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Disability and Domestic Violence

People with disabilities experience many of the same issues that people without disabilities do — such as domestic violence. Yet for people with disabilities, it can often be harder to get help. Disability Pride Month offers an opportunity to raise awareness about people with disabilities who experience domestic violence.

The facts about domestic violence and people with disabilities are startling. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with disabilities have a higher lifetime prevalence of domestic violence compared to people without disabilities. One study found that 70% of people with disabilities had experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner, family member, or caregiver.

Domestic violence for people with disabilities can include the same types of abuse that people without disabilities experience, including sexual assault, psychological abuse, reproductive coercion, physical abuse, and financial abuse. It may also involve abuse that is directly linked to a person’s disability, such as:

  • Withholding medicine

  • Physically harming or threatening service or support animals

  • Withholding or destroying assistive devices, such as wheelchairs

  • Depriving victims of necessary physical accommodations

  • Stealing or withholding Social Security Disability checks

  • Shaming or humiliating a person because of their disability

  • Invalidating or minimizing a disability

  • Refusing to support the completion of necessary life tasks

  • Preventing a person from seeing a doctor or other caregiver

  • Threatening to “out” an invisible disability, particularly if it carries a social stigma

  • Using a disability to justify abusive behavior

Abuse & People with Disabilities Power and Control Wheel

In many situations, it can be more challenging for people with disabilities to get help if they are being abused. For example, if the person who is abusing them is also their caretaker, they may not have the privacy or access to information that they need to reach out to the police or a social service agency.

Some people experiencing abuse may worry that if they seek help, the police won’t believe them. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the police are less likely to respond to a report of violence if the victim is a person with a disability. People who abuse might take advantage of societal attitudes about disability to portray the victim as unreliable or to explain away any physical injuries.

Other barriers to seeking help may include:

  • Isolation

  • Lack of transportation

  • Inaccessible buildings

  • Lack of communication devices or interpretation

  • Potential loss of physical care provided by the person who is abusing them

  • Limited or no education on healthy relationships and sexuality for people with disabilities

Each of these factors — in addition to the barriers that all victims and survivors of domestic violence face — can make it incredibly difficult for people with disabilities to escape an abusive situation or get help.

There is no one way for a person to be disabled, so one-size-fits-all policies are not enough. Instead, we must recognize the unique needs of each individual, and respond accordingly. By raising awareness about these issues, we can be part of the solution — and help to make sure that all victims and survivors of domestic violence get the help that they need.

At Blackburn Center, we offer services to ALL victims of domestic violence and other types of abuse and crime. We work hard to ensure that all of our services are accessible to women, children, and men who have experienced abuse. To learn more or to get help, call us anytime at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). Calls to our hotline are free of charge, and can be confidential.



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