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Domestic, family and sexual violence experienced by people with disability

  • People with disability have a higher risk of experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence than people without disability
  • People with disability can also experience more barriers to access support services
  • Being aware of the issues people with disability experience can help to prevent further violence and increase safety.

Understanding violence against people with disability

People with disability are more likely to experience violence at higher rates. In particular, women with disability are at greatest risk. Women with disability may also experience barriers to accessing support services.

Compared to women without disability, women with disability:

  • Are at greater risk of severe forms of intimate partner violence
  • Experience violence at significantly higher rates, more frequently, for longer, in more ways, and by more perpetrators
  • Have considerably fewer pathways to safety
  • Are less likely to report experiences of violence

For many people with disability, recognising that what they are experiencing is violence and that this is a problem or a crime is a significant issue. This can be made worse by limited access to quality information and support. They may also lack the confidence to seek help or be unaware of the services available to support them.

Another barrier to seeking help or reporting violence is not being listened to. Often people with disability have limited control in family or institutional settings. In these environments, perpetrators are often seen by others (such as police and doctors) to be more believable.

Recognising forms of violence

Although women with disability are affected by similar types of violence as women in the wider community, they often experience different forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence. The violence may be perpetrated by a partner, relative, paid or unpaid support worker as well as strangers. In a residential or institutional setting the perpetrator could be another resident or staff member, a medical practitioner or a service provider. Those who rely on personal care assistance may be subject to frequent violence and abuse, ranging from neglect and poor care to economic, verbal and sexual abuse.

Examples of other forms of violence towards women with disability can include:

  • Threatening to punish, abandon or institutionalise them
  • Threatening that police or other services will not believe their reports
  • Threatening to report them to Child Protection or have their children taken away
  • Threats to assistance animals (such as guide dogs)
  • Financial abuse
  • Abuse that focuses on the disability itself

People with disability can be more likely to experience abuse due to a range of factors, including:

  • Reliance on the perpetrator of the violence, for example, for personal care, mobility, income, parenting support or transport
  • Lack of support options
  • Lack of economic resources or sufficient income
  • Lack of awareness that the violence they are experiencing is wrong
  • Social isolation that stems from the marginalised position of people with disability in our society
  • Failure of adequate supervision in a community residential or other institutional settings
  • Communication challenges and lack of access to interpreters, communication devices and information in appropriate formats
  • Normalisation of the experience of being controlled and abused (especially if this has been accepted by authority figures, for example, where a carer is asked to 'speak for' a person with a disability).

Visit the 1800RESPECT Disability Support Toolkit for further resources.