People with disabilities experience domestic or sexual violence at a higher rate than people without disabilities. Here are some of the grim statistics:
If you ask 100 people - all of whom have a disability - if they are part of the "disability community," many of them would probably answer "no."
There are several reasons for this. People with disabilities usually do not live in a neighborhood where they can easily gather to share stories and experiences. There are few religious gatherings, community centers, or coffee shops that cater to people with disabilities.
Many people do not see themselves - or want to be seen by others - as having a disability. For example:
People with disabilities often find themselves alone in a world of people who do not understand what it is like to live with their particular disability. For example, people who are blind may not identify as belonging to the same community as people with cognitive disabilities. People with chemical dependency issues don't identify as belonging to the same community as people who are paralyzed. This results in a lack of one cohesive community, which is why people with disabilities or services providers with expertise in serving people with disabilities may use the term "disability communities" rather than the singular "community."
Without a cohesive community, living with a disability can be isolating. Isolation increases risk of abuse.
People with disabilities experience sexual violence at a higher rate than people without disabilities, and often face limited options when seeking to escape an abusive relationship. The resources they use to maintain autonomy and independence are often controlled and exploited by their abuser. When asked how an abuser "uses your disability against you," survivors with disabilities rattle off a laundry list of tactics. Abusers maintain power over the person through control of:
When someone with a disability wants to leave an abusive relationship, the stakes can be unusually high. If survivors are unable to reconstruct the network of disability-related supports they need, they may end up in an institutional or group setting. Once individuals with disabilities enter into an institutional or group setting, they often spend the rest of their lives there.
Tactics utilized by abusers against survivors with disabilities usually exploit the social bias, misinformation, and stigma surrounding people with disabilities.
Survivors report that they often hear comments such as, "Nobody will believe you, you're crazy." "If you leave me, I'll get the kids. No judge in his right mind would give you custody." "I'll tell them you get nutty when you don't take your meds." Survivors with disabilities repeatedly state that criminal justice system personnel do not treat people with disabilities as credible.
Original information contributed by Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Updated by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.