Women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse, sexual assault and rape as non-disabled women. This is especially true when they are in relationships with men who don’t have disabilities. Disabled women experience the full range of mental, physical, sexual and financial abuse. Coercive and controlling behaviour is very common. They also experience domestic abuse for longer periods of time, and more severe and frequent abuse than non-disabled people.
Disabled people also encounter differing dynamics of domestic abuse, as it may include more severe coercion, control or abuse not only from intimate partners, but also from family and carers. The disability may often be used as an emotional weapon, so that the abused person is made to feel ugly, stupid, humiliated, worthless and useless – ‘Useless cow, the only thing you’re good for is sex.’ Abuse can also happen when someone withholds, destroys or manipulates medical equipment, limits access to communication, medication, personal care, meals and transportation.
There is a particularly horrible and insidious form of abuse called ‘mate crime’ when vulnerable people, such as those with autism or learning disabilities, are bullied, manipulated or exploited by people they consider to be friends.
Friendships and relationships are a rich and important part of everyone's life - and that includes people with a learning disability. Learning disabled people have the natural human desire for companionship and intimacy, but often fewer opportunities to meet people, because they may lack confidence, have low self-esteem, and be socially isolated. This makes them more vulnerable to entering into abusive relationships.
Society tends to avoid discussion of disabled people’s relationships, particularly their sexual relationships, so not only do disabled people experience higher rates of domestic abuse, they also experience more barriers to accessing support, such as health and social care services and domestic abuse services. It is still all too easy for society to turn a blind eye to the needs of disabled people.
For all these reasons, it is important that women with disabilities can access the information they need to enable them to escape a violent relationship, and someone they trust to tell them directly that they do not need to put up with abuse.
Border Women’s Aid provides help and support to ANY woman who experiences domestic abuse. Help is just a phone call away.
“He used to take the piss out of me because of my learning disability. He’d say you’re useless, you can’t do nothing…”
– Cited by Professor Michelle McCarthy, Tizard Centre, University of Kent