Violence against women with disabilities

Feb 20, 2023 | Diseases & Drugs

The article published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Sociology analyzes violence against European women with or without disabilities.

Physical and sexual abuse against women with disabilities is more frequent, even about twice as common as for women without disabilities. Women with disabilities are twice as likely to report severe forms of violence, including being beaten, and three times more likely to report being forced into sexual activity.

About the violence against disabled people

In the medical model, disability is a physical and/or mental condition that limits individual movement, activity or sense of perception. However, according to a social model, disability is not caused by a specific disability; it is caused by social attitudes and practices.

There are several categories of abusive behavior, typical forms of violence and those targeting a person’s disability. Intimate partner violence refers to the behavior of an intimate partner or ex-partner that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm. This includes physical assault, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behavior. Forms of violence that target a person’s disability include neglect or denial of support, denial of assistance or medication, and destruction of assistive devices such as wheelchairs.

Persons with disabilities experience more violence in their lifetime than non-disabled persons, and are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted.

Many disabling neurological conditions with mobility and sensory impairments, such as spinal cord injuries, stroke, and traumatic brain injury, make strong resistance difficult. On the other hand, abusers know that disabled persons are relatively unable to resist.

Medical conditions associated with exposure to violence include injury, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, sleep disorders, stress-related symptoms, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms of depression include feelings of failure, guilt, self-accusation, crying, social withdrawal, insomnia, and suicidal ideation.

About the study

The article analyzed intimate partner violence affecting European women with or without disabilities. The investigation is based on a survey conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights between 2010 and 2012. 42,002 women were interviewed, with a representative sample of women from all 28 EU Member States.

The researchers attempted to determine through a multiple logistic regression analysis, whether the experience of intimate partner violence is something that can simply be added or overlapped with: 1. social categories (income, education and marital status), 2. abuser (partner abusing alcohol, partner abusing others), 3. the relationship (duration, equality in economic decisions), and 4. history of intimate partner violence.

The results suggest that living with a disability overlaps with low income, which is linked to an increase in violence. Other interactions that are relevant include living as a disabled woman under the age of 15, and living as a disabled person with a partner who is abusing alcohol.

The majority of victims face specific barriers to seeking help. They may depend heavily on their abusive caregivers and lose their help if they report violence. The lack of communication devices, interpretation, and transportation equipment can also prevent persons with disabilities from finding security. People with disabilities choose not to report violence to the authorities because they are afraid that they will not have someone to care for them or that the services will not help them resolve their problems.

It is important to provide adequate support for victims of violence, and to those in imminent danger of potential violence. Establishing work protocols and training activities will allow individuals involved in violence prevention and intervention activities to better target their resources to those who need them most. The removal of conditions that create risk is the responsibility of any society, particularly systems that seek to ensure equal protection for all.

The authors concluded that their results should encourage investment in policies for the prevention of intimate partner violence against women with disabilities, in particular among poor women with a disability, women with a history of physical violence, and women whose partners are abusing alcohol.

This article is part of the research theme “Towards the elimination of violence against women and girls- sociological perspective”.

The article is published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Sociology. Rodriguez Martinez P. Intimate partner violence experienced by women living with—and without—disability in the European Union. A quantitative intersectional analysis. Front. Sociol. 22 August 2022 Sec. Gender, Sex and Sexualities Volume 7 – 2022 (Open Access)