​Reasons Women with Disabilities Experiencing Violence May Not Seek Help

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on October 26, 2022 # Relationships

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and while no population is immune to experiencing violence, women with disabilities experience violence at much higher rates than women and men without disabilities. On average, it takes a person seven times to leave an abusive relationship before staying away for good. Victims face many obstacles when trying to leave an abusive relationship. Women with disabilities often experience unique barriers that prevent them from leaving or from even seeking help. Below is a list of reasons why some women with disabilities cannot or do not seek help. This is not a comprehensive list.

Poverty. Poverty is a factor that prevents many people without disabilities from seeking help. Many people living in poverty may not seek help because of poverty-related fears, such as fear that they will not be able to afford a home, food, transportation, and other living expenses without their abuser's financial assistance. For disabled women, poverty-related fears can be exacerbated. According to a 2021 report from the U.S. Department of Labor, women with disabilities have the highest rates of living below the federal poverty level compared to men with disabilities, and to men and women without disabilities across all ages. In addition to all of the poverty-related reasons that other people have for not seeking help, women with disabilities might also be prevented from seeking help because they cannot afford accessible transportation to seek help or they cannot afford attendant services if they leave their abuser.

Fear. All people who experience abuse struggle to leave because of fear. Every person is different and fears different things, but people with disabilities have fears that people without disabilities don’t usually even think of, such as fear of losing attendant services or fear of being institutionalized. If you’re a person with a disability that requires assistance from a personal care attendant, and your attendant is abusing you, you may fear reporting your attendant because then you won’t have anyone to help you shower and get dressed every day. If you go without an attendant for too long, your doctor or caseworker may deem that it is “unsafe” for you to live in the community without support so you will be sent to an institution.

Inaccessibility. Inaccessibility can include physical inaccessibility (such as a domestic violence organization that has stairs to get in or does not have any accessible bathrooms), programmatic or systematic inaccessibility (such as a shelter that has a no opioids rule, forcing victims of violence who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain to choose between seeking help or being able to manage their chronic pain), and communication inaccessibility (such as shelters not providing American Sign Language interpreters for Deaf people or case workers not being patient enough to listen to a person with a speech disability).

These are only a few barriers that women with disabilities face when trying to seek help. There is no one size fits all answer to helping disabled women who are experiencing violence. However, there are things we can do to help. We can work with local domestic violence organizations to help ensure their programs and offices are accessible, we can educate our communities about the increased risk of violence that disabled women face, and we can listen to women with disabilities when they share their experiences with us - and help them when they ask.

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

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