The Effects Of Disabilities On Women Trapped In Abuse
The nightmare of abuse leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless and trapped. Psychologically, you are a prisoner. Too afraid to leave, but afraid of what will happen if you stay. We all know this. Now imagine for a second that you couldn’t go. I don’t mean the psychological barriers we all face in leaving. I mean you literally, physically could not go. What if it wasn’t an option? Imagine depending on your abuser for your very life, literally. Imagine being trapped not only by the abuse, but also by a wheelchair, cancer, or a child with Autism.
This scenario is all too common. Women who have a disability are at a much greater risk than other women, of being victims of physical or sexual abuse. According to the Center On Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies at Syracuse University, women with disabilities are about twice as likely to become victims of abuse as are women who do not have a disability. Their disabilities or those of their children make them much more vulnerable and also put up much higher barriers to receiving assistance to get away from the abuse.
Many shelters are not equipped to handle the special needs of women with disabilities and this decreases the options for these women to leave. For example, if a woman needs attendant care on a regular basis, or special bathroom facilities, or needs lifts and ramps to access buildings, then many shelters cannot meet her needs and she may be sent to an institution which is not equipped or trained to support victims of domestic abuse. Women with disabilities may also have trouble accessing information or supports, due to communication barriers. Negative attitudes and prejudices devalue people with disabilities and this combined with difficulty in prosecuting abusers in these cases has contributed to a lack of responsiveness within law enforcement and an ineffective judicial system in these cases. Abusers learn that they can get away with whatever they want, and they do.
According to the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, abusers use a range of tactics to keep their disabled victims under their control, including manipulation of medication, refusal to help meet basic needs such as grooming, hygiene, clothing or feeding, and destruction or withholding of adaptive equipment or financial resources. Abusers will also withhold access to needed communication aides such as TTY and translators, and make decisions on the care their victims will or won’t receive.
Women with disabilities are much more dependent on their abusers than their counterparts for basic care, financial support and decision making; and the fear of losing these things keeps them in their relationships with their abusers on average almost twice as long as their non-disabled counterparts.
Women who have children with disabilities are often unable to leave their abusive situations, as shelters and friends are not always equipped to take them. They are often full time care givers of their children and can not work to provide an income with which to leave and be able to provide for themselves and their children. They depend on the income of the abuser and this keeps them locked into the abuse.
This is a much bigger problem than is really recognized, even by many abuse advocates today and it needs serious attention and change. What are your thoughts? Have you experienced this kind of complication or know someone who has? How can advocates for the disability community work along side the advocates for abuse survivors, to create change and open access to real supports for the many victims with disabilities, trapped by their abusers?
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A useful resource: Help and Advice for Women with Disabilities — by Domestic Violence Resource Centre, Victoria, Australia
An academic paper from Australia: ‘Double the Odds’ — Domestic Violence and Women with Disabilities
We may also have a subset of victims who are parents of children who have autism. The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs by Andrew and Rachel Wilson comes highly recommended and is on our Resources page.