‘According to research by Women’s Aid, one in four women experience domestic violence. For women with a disability, this figure doubles. Be it at the hands of their partner, family, or carer, almost one in two disabled women will be abused in their lifetime. Some of their experiences fit within traditional definitions of domestic violence. Some do not. For a disabled woman, domestic violence can take on unique, complex forms, often specifically related to their disability such as having medicine withheld, being physically assaulted or deliberately not assisted to go to the toilet.
“A woman’s impairment can be used in the abuse,” says Dr Jackie Barron from Women’s Aid. “We’ve heard cases where a woman’s wheelchair was removed just as she was about to sit down, or a hearing aid thrown to the other side of the room leaving the victim unable to communicate.”
Today marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the beginning of 16 days of action to end gender based abuse around the world.
In this country, in 2012, an incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every 60 seconds. That translates as 10% of all emergency calls. More than a million British women a year experience domestic violence, though experts say the vast majority of incidents remain unreported. Three women a week kill themselves as a result of domestic abuse – and another 30 try to.
Despite the prevalence, domestic violence is known as the ‘hidden’ crime. It’s ‘hidden’ in the sense that, by definition, the punch, the humiliation, the rape goes on behind closed doors. It’s hidden in that, despite two women continuing to die a week, local authorities have blindly cut 31% of funding to domestic and sexual violence services over the past two years. It’s ‘hidden’ in the way it can affect any woman, but those women who are already marginalised due to ethnicity, sexuality, or disability can face additional problems.
When it comes to media coverage, the latter group are particularly ‘hidden’. Seemingly comfortable with reporting abuse within residential care or by professionals, there’s considerably less said about the abuse of women with disabilities if it’s by someone they’re in a sexual relationship with or if happens within their own home. As part of The Guardian’s domestic violence series, this week I covered the issue for G2.