Domestic violence is hard for an able-bodied person to cope with, but it can be even more difficult for a person to cope if they are considered to be disabled.
Statistics in the United Kingdom suggest that disabled women are actually twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse as other women are. The abuse which they face is also likely to continue over a longer period of time and to result in more serious injuries.
How can abuse differ?
As with all forms of domestic abuse, the abuse of a disabled partner is caused by the abusive partner’s desire for power and control in the relationship. Physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse can all play their part in this type of violent relationship. However, abusive partners are able to exert different forms of control over a disabled partner, because of their circumstances.
If a disabled person relies on their partner for food, medication and vital care, then the abusive partner has the ability to gain “power” by withholding these. They can also remove, damage or destroy equipment which the disabled person might rely on. For example, controlling the power to a stair lift can control their partner’s ability to move around their home.
An abusive person may also create other physical or mental barriers to prevent their partner from living independently. For example, if a person is visually impaired, they may choose to keep their home in a certain configuration; by moving things around in this home, the abuser can create fear and uncertainty.
An abuser can also threaten to involve external organisations in the disabled person’s affairs. Many women in this position are keen to try to live a normal life and limit the involvement of social services.
An abuser can threaten their victim by suggesting that without them they could be forced to live under social care. This is particularly common in cases where the person also has mental vulnerabilities. An abuser may also claim disability benefits on behalf of their partner, and then withhold these funds from them.
Additional barrier to support for disabled women
Disabled women often find it even harder to access support than other women do, because there are additional barriers in the way. Their disabilities may mean that it is even harder to physically protect themselves in the face of physical violence. Mental vulnerabilities can also mean that it is easier for abusers to take power and control in a relationship.
Disabled women may also find themselves more physically/socially isolated from their peers if they rely on their partner to take them out. This means that they may have fewer outlets in which to discuss the abuse or raise awareness of the abuse. This is particularly true if the abusive partner stays with the woman during the course of the outing, so that they are unable to speak freely.
It is also harder for women to prepare to leave their partner if their partner provides care for them. Although their partner is abusive towards them, they may be concerned about what could happen to them if they were left in a situation without their primary carer. However, domestic violence support agencies can often help to put disabled women in touch with people who can help them to live independently and would help them to meet their care needs.
Is support available for disabled women?
Most domestic violence charities understand the difficulties which affect disabled women in abusive relationships. They are able to work with other organisations to help to provide these people with the support that they need to allow them to escape from an abusive situation.