Today is international women's day. All over the world people will be celebrating the incredible achievements of women, many in the face of adversity. Simultaneously, people will be raising some of the difficult issues women still face today, and the barriers that prevent gender parity.
This article is dedicated to exploring the issue of domestic violence, specifically in relation to women with disabilities.
Now, whilst men, and men with disabilities can experience domestic abuse, there is no doubt that it predominately happens to women. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and 2 women die every week as a result of domestic violence (Office of National Statistics, 2015). These are harrowing statistics.
However, the statistics become even more harrowing when those who experience domestic violence are women with disabilities. According to Public Health England, people with disabilities experience twice the rate of domestic abuse than those who do not have a disability. The Office for National Statistics states that while 7.1% of women tend to face domestic abuse in a year, the figure is more than double that for women with disabilities, standing at 15.7%. It is also said that the domestic abuse they experienced was often more severe and longer lasting.
Some of the types of domestic abuse that women with disabilities are more likely to experience include:
Verbal abuse – experiencers of domestic abuse have often stated that their partner had called them offensive and insulting names, and shamed them for having a disability. These tactics were usually employed to negatively affect a woman's self-worth and confidence.
Financial abuse – perpetrators may steal or withhold money from the person experiencing abuse. They may also purposefully damage possessions belonging to the individual.
Physical abuse – as well as causing physical injuries, physical abuse also includes sexual abuse/violence.
Social isolation – not being allowed out in their community, not being allowed to work or study, and/or not being allowed to see friends or family.
According to Tizard, University of Kent, there are also types of domestic abuse that are unique to women with disabilities including withholding or sabotaging equipment such as wheelchairs, hearing aids etc., leaving women in physically uncomfortable positions, and threats that leaving the relationship will result in the woman being institutionalised.
Empowering women to know their rights
Some women have said they did not recognise that what they were experiencing was domestic abuse. Professionals need to support women with disabilities to understand what constitutes as domestic violence and what they can do if they are experiencing it.
Furthermore, we need to get the message across that women who experience domestic violence are not to blame themselves for any type of abuse they may be experiencing, and that they will be listened to if they choose to report it.
Improving identification of domestic abuse
As well as empowering women to identify signs of their own abuse, and ensuring women with disabilities know their rights, we also need to ensure that staff are trained to identify domestic abuse. This is not limited to the social care sector, but also to institutions such as the police force and GP surgeries. The NIHR School for Social Care Research have said that only 20% of police officers felt that they had had enough training in issues relating to people with learning disabilities. NICE also recommends that training should be commissioned for GPs and healthcare professionals to spot signs of domestic abuse, to make it easier for people to disclose information relating to domestic abuse, and to make referrals to specialist.
Improving access to services
Whilst women with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic abuse, they are less able to access services such as refuges and independent domestic violence advocates.
Local authorities should be supporting the development of specific services for women with disabilities who experience domestic abuse, making sure that they are accessible to those with support needs.
One of the ways we can improve women with disabilities’ access to services is by making sure that accessible information on the subject is widely available. Some of the current information that is accessible includes:
Easy Health have accessible information on domestic abuse: http://www.easyhealth.org.uk/listing/abuse-(leaflets)
Books beyond words have two picture books on the topic of domestic violence:
Finding a Safe Place from Abuse: http://booksbeyondwords.co.uk/bookshop/paperbacks/finding-safe-place-abuse
When Dad Hurts Mum: http://booksbeyondwords.co.uk/bookshop/paperbacks/when-dad-hurts-mum
If you think you have been a victim of domestic violence, below are a list of organisations that can help:
Women’s Aid: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/