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Disability and Domestic Abuse


People with disabilities can be vulnerable to domestic abuse/violence and may often face additional difficulties in attempting to access support. A person who is disabled and experiencing domestic abuse/violence may find it harder to protect themselves, access sources of help, or remove themselves from the abusive situation, a person with disabilities may be reliant on the abuser for personal care or mobility. Someone with a disability can be subject to physical, psychological, sexual or financial abuse in any or all of the ways that someone without a disability suffer abuse, but in addition they may experience the following forms of abusive behaviour:

•  The abuser may remove mobility or sensory devices that are needed for independence

•  The abuser may withhold care from someone or undertake it neglectfully or abusively

•  The abuser may be claiming  benefits in order to care for the person, enabling them to control their finances more effectively

•  The abuser may use a persons disability to taunt or degrade them

Someone with a disability in an abusive relationship or suffering abuse from anyone may already be socially isolated because of their disability, but also finding it harder to disclose the abuse they are experiencing because they have no opportunity to see health or social care professionals without the abuser being present.

A person may have particular concerns or fears about moving out of their home as it may have been specially adapted for them, or care packages have been organised and they are worried that they will lose their current level of independence if they have to move elsewhere.

A person may be reluctant to report domestic abuse from a partner who’s care they depend on, and the care which they believe, enables them to stay out of institutional care.

If you are worried about someone who you think may be experiencing abuse or neglect, talk to the person in private and mention some of the things that concern you. It’s important to listen and let the person talk as much as they want. Be mindful and remember that if someone has been or is suffering abuse, they may be scared or hesitant to talk about what is happening to them because they don’t want to aggravate the situation.

It can be extremely difficult for an abused or neglected person to talk about what’s been happening to them so If a person does open up and tell you something that upsets or shocks you, it’s really important to remain calm otherwise the person may become more upset and stop telling you what’s been going on. If an adult is being abused or neglected, it’s important to find help for them and stop the harm. You may want to talk to other people who know them to find out if they have similar concerns. There are professionals you can contact and you can pass on your concerns to the person’s GP or social worker. Local authorities have social workers who deal specifically with cases of abuse and neglect. Most forms of abuse are crimes and If you’ve been the victim of abuse, or you are concerned for someone who is, you can speak to the police who will take your matter seriously.

If you require a translator the police can provide someone by phone and later in person. If the person is in immediate danger or needs medical attention, call their GP or emergency services if immediate assistance is required. Everyone has the right to live in safety and In order for us to improve the systems approaches to inclusion and diversity, more action needs to be taken to educate people of the heightened risks people with disabilities face when it comes to domestic abuse.

This will hopefully lead to the signs of domestic abuse being recognised early on. Crimes committed against someone because of their disability, transgender-identity, religion, race, belief, or sexual orientation are hate crimes and should be reported to the police.

You can report hate crime online. Call 999 if you’re reporting a crime that’s in progress or if someone is in immediate danger. If the crime isn’t an emergency, call 101 or contact your local police.

The Details

What is domestic abuse?

Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as:

An incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.

Domestic abuse can be:

  • Emotional – e.g. belittling you, isolating you from friends and family, controlling where you go and who you talk to.
  • Threats and Intimidation – e.g. threatening to hurt/kill you, harassing or following you.
  • Physical – e.g. hitting you, shoving you, throwing things at you, choking you.
  • Sexual – e.g. pressures you into having sex, touches you in a way that you don’t want to be touched.
  • Financial – e.g. controlling your use of money, not giving you enough money to survive.

Disabilities and domestic abuse

A review by Public Health England in 2015 confirmed that people with disabilities are more vulnerable to domestic violence, experience domestic abuse for longer periods of time, and experience more severe and frequent abuse than non-disabled people.

People with disabilities also encounter differing dynamics of domestic abuse, which may include more severe coercion, control or abuse from carers.

Abuse can also happen when someone withholds, destroys or manipulates medical equipment, access to communication, medication, personal care, meals and transportation.

People with disabilities have also reported abuse through the form of intrusion and lack of privacy.

What makes people with disabilities more at risk of domestic abuse?

People with disabilities are often in particularly vulnerable circumstances. Certain disabilities, particularly physical disabilities, may decrease their ability to physically defend themselves and escape from abuse. Other disabilities can limit a person’s ability to understand and recognise potential signs of abuse.

Some disabilities can create social isolation via exclusion due to physical and environmental inaccessibility or via stigma discrimination in social activities. Therefore, many people with disabilities are left with a much smaller support network than those people without a disability. This makes it more difficult for family members and friends to recognise the signs of abuse. It also means that there are less people for victims to confide in or go to for support.

Frequent interactions with institutional and medical settings and personal care assistants coming into their homes may also increase the risk of domestic violence.  Their reliance on care can increase the situational vulnerability to other people’s controlling behaviour. This reliance can create power inequalities within a relationship. It has been suggested that perpetrators of abuse are more likely to target the most vulnerable to whom they have access.

Accessing support

People with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse for longer periods of time because they have difficulties and concerns when accessing the support that they need.

Their reliance on other people means that often they are reliant on their abuser for personal care or mobility. This sometimes means that they are reluctant to report the abuse because they are dependent on that person, they may also believe that the person enables them to stay out of institutional care.

It can be hard for some to disclose their abuse because they have no opportunity to see a health or social care professional without their abuser being present. This is especially true if their abuser is their carer.

If the person lives with their abuser, they may be concerned about moving out of their home as their home may have been especially adapted for their needs. Many feel trapped because they feel there are no other care options for them.

Health and social care services and domestic abuse services can sometimes be inaccessible for people with disabilities. Lack of a sign language translator, the information not being available in audio or large print or the staircase being the only entrance are all examples of practical difficulties people with disabilities face which can make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to engage with the services they need for support.

Not only are there physical barriers when trying to access support, often staff members aren’t trained to consider the needs of people with disabilities therefore can’t offer them the level of support that they need.

How can we help victims?

In order to improve the systems approaches to inclusion and diversity, more needs to be done to educate people of the heightened risks people with disabilities face when it comes to domestic abuse. This will hopefully lead to the signs of domestic abuse being spotted early on.

The system should also make itself more accessible by removing any physical barriers, for example by making sure there is disabled access to all service buildings, and also social barriers by giving staff the training they need to be able to fully support people with disabilities.

Key Statistics on Disability and Domestic Abuse

In 2016, the Office for National Statistics published a report on Intimate Personal Violence and Partner Abuse. It found that:

  • 16% of women with a long-term illness or disability had experienced domestic abuse compared to 6.8% of non-disabled women.
  • 8% of men with a long-term illness or disability had experienced domestic abuse compared to 3.2% of non-disabled men.
  • Victims with a disability were more likely to experience other effects as a result of their abuse, including mental or emotional problems, difficulty in other relationships and attempted suicide.

Women’s Aid produced a Domestic Abuse Report in 2017. Within the report they look at provision on Routes to Support. This is their online database which contains information about domestic abuse services in the UK, along with refuge vacancies. The report states that:

  • Of the 11,187 vacancies available during 2016/17, only 1.7% had wheelchair access.
  • Only 1/5 of refuge services said they were able to accommodate a carer.
  • Only 21.4% of refuge services offered support for women with learning difficulties.
  • Only 3.3% of refuge centres employ staff proficient in British Sign Language.

Ann Craft Trust Research

We have recently been funded by the Lloyds Foundation to research into reducing the risk of domestic abuse for disabled young adults.

The recognition of the category of ‘domestic abuse’ in the 2014 Care Act now means that all agencies need to be able to recognise the signs of domestic abuse in disabled young people and adults.

Child Protection procedures and guidance have an expectation that professionals address these issues. However, young people with learning difficulties do not have sufficient access to support.

There is an identified gap in research-informed training to assist frontline workers and their managers in regards to working with disabled young people. This project will address this gap.

This research will work with disabled young people who have experienced domestic abuse (aged 17 – 25), professionals working with young people with learning disabilities and professionals working in the domestic abuse field.

The aims of this research are to:


  • Understand the experiences of disabled young people of support services and intervention by domestic abuse services, police, health, social care and other workers; to seek young peoples’ views about how services respond to them.
  • Find out more about what disabled young people want from domestic abuse services and support agencies; what would good practice mean to them.
  • Identify what works and what have been the barriers to delivering this help and support.
  • Develop training materials and policy and practice recommendations.  (Anne Craft Trust Research)

Posted by Abra Millar in Safeguarding Adults

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