DISCLAIMER: POST CONTAINS SENSITIVE MATERIAL THAT SOME READERS MAY FIND UPSETTING. ALL FACTS MENTIONED ON SAID TOPIC ARE FROM EXTENSIVE RESEARCH AVAILABLE FROM WOMEN'S AID CHARITIES, STRENGTHENED BY MY OWN EXPERIENCE AS A DOMESTIC ABUSE SURVIVOR. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE BEING SUBJECTED TO ABUSE, PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP! #ENDTHESILENCE
It may come as a surprise to a lot of people, after all this is a topic that is never really discussed openly in the disability community, nevermind with the general public. I can only account that due to the fact people with disabilities are expected to be these strong, inspiring individuals who have fought for their place and rights in this world. From day one we are fighting against all odds. People forget that our community is still vulnerable to all the horrors out there. Bad things can happen just as much to us, ontop of our disabilities and in saying that things like domestic violence and abuse are actually HIGHER amongst persons with disabilities, as a direct result of their limitations.
Just as in the rest of society, women are more commonly subjected to domestic violence/abuse and assaults than men. In a recent study, it was found that 1 in every 4 women with disabilities experience some form of abuse at least once in their lifetime. To add to that, disabled women can end up trapped in violence longer than able-bodied women in similar circumstances.
The most harrowing comment that's made to victims of domestic abuse is, "Why didn't you just leave?" This statement insinuates to the victim that they are somehow to blame for being abused and caused it to continue longer by simply not getting away. There are many common misconceptions around victims that need to be stopped.
What people don't seem to realise is that domestic abuse doesn't materialise overnight. The person doesn't suddenly go from having a healthy, loving relationship to being hit or beat. If it did there would be less victims and more abusers locked up. Domestic violence/abuse ISN'T all about inflicting physical pain on a partner, it's about control. Control that is often built on the abuser having deep insecurities and paranoia over their partners life outside of their relationship.
Infact the abuser doesn't set out to become one. Very slowly they start to control subtle parts of their partners life, often in a bid to make themselves feel more secure. E.g Not wanting other men to lust after their partner so they'll suggest certain clothing that covers more skin or doesn't flatter her in a bid to make her less attractive to other men. Then build on from there to saying she doesn't need make-up or her hair looks nice in ways she doesn't normally choose. Progressing onto telling her not to go certain places alone, making it to be for her own safety. Before the victim knows it they have lost their sense of identity and are asking permission to go out with friends. The abuser may start to create friction between her and her friends or family so they fall out, meaning she's not asking to go out to meet with them as much. Some go as far as faking conversations to make the victim think her family/friends are not looking out for her best interests or don't care about her. A ongoing tactic to isolate her and make her depend on him.
It isn't obvious to the victim that they are actually being abused until said abuser has made significant manipulative changes in her life and her self-esteem has taken a severe beating. The relationship was once healthy and love can blind them from realising the true extent of the situation until they're in so deep, once the realisation hits, the abuser feels the need to take it up a notch in a bid to remain in control. At this stage it often turns to physical violence. Controlling the victim with fear itself.
"Why don't they just go to the police? The police can protect them surely?" Is what people assume from seeing domestic violence on TV.
Going back to solely looking at women with disabilities being abused, here are some key points that stop this group of women from getting out and getting help sooner;
⛔ - Women's shelters and refuges aren't usually wheelchair accessible
⛔ - The abuser takes away methods of contact by putting phones/laptops etc out of reach
⛔ - Having issues with carers/personal assistants or outside help coming in the home and pretending to give their partner more "freedom" by taking over as caregiver, when in fact its to make the victim depend solely on them for their most basic needs to survive.
⛔ - Brainwashing them into believing their family/authorities will not believe them. This is because the abuser is often put on a pedestal by the victims family/friends/community for taking on the care of a disabled partner, even if taking on the "care" wasn't something that their partner consented to. Society often deems a spouse or relative taking on a loved ones care as heroic even
⛔ - By making their victim rely on them for their care needs, abusers often with hold assistance with personal care (toileting, showering, changing clothes etc), getting to hospital appointments and access to needed medications for their condition. Ultimately neglecting their needs as a way of control and show dominance.
⛔ - As the abuser becomes the sole caregiver and there's no other in-home help in place, the disabled partner fears being put in a nursing home type facility if she does get away, as she'd be homeless and need help in ADLs
⛔ - If there's not enough proof (especially if no physical bruises/marks on the body), despite getting away and informing the police, studies show many disabled individuals end up back with their abusers as there's nowhere for them to go. A highly dangerous result as the abuser will now have it in for their victim and inflict further and more violent behaviour to keep them quiet
⛔ - Being made to think they deserve it for being such a burden to their abusive partner and society. Many victims self-esteem becomes so broken they believe their abuser that they should be punished for being ungrateful for their abusers help in daily life
⛔ - Threats to hurt or kill them or their children if they catch them trying to get away or talking to outsiders about what's been going on behind closed doors.
So to round those points off, a victim that has a disability is far more likely to become trapped, brainwashed and controlled by the abusive partner. They have the much harder reality of an escape plan that must include someone to help and somewhere accessible to go where the abuser is unlikely to find them, in the case there's not enough evidence to charge them. When communication tools and privacy are taken away, the escape plan becomes an impossible plight to undertake alone. 2% of these women are thankfully rescued by concerned family/friends that have witnessed subtle degrees of aggressive or manipulative behaviours with their own eyes. The abuser, though often very clever and well practiced at controlling themselves around company, at one point or another will slip up and cause suspicion of mistreatment.
What can you do if you suspect someone you know is being abused and has a disability? (Refer back to Know The 8 Before It's Too Late earlier in this post for ways to tell)
✔️ - Do NOT under ANY circumstances (no matter how upsetting it is) confront the abuser, especially while the person is still in the situation. This can cause greater violence towards them as the abuser will assume they've managed to tell someone.
✔️ - Find excuses to visit on spec and try and tell the victim you are aware of what is happening. If the abuser is helicoptering (a common method to limit interactions for their partner) hand them a note in secret or motion to them when the abusers back in turned.
✔️ - Make trusted people aware and create a plan of action. Trusted people are those that won't compromise getting the victim out by talking to everyone or going after the abuser before the victim is safe. Together create a plan on where the person can stay that they can cope in (given their specific disabilities) for at least a few weeks until something more permanent can be arranged. If the individual needs help with ADLs then brainstorm to find a friend/relative who is willing to step in and help until in-home support can be set back up by Adult Social Services
✔️ - Have everything established, pick a day and time where you can be there for the victim. Ring the police and meet them at the house to be of emotional support.
✔️ - Try to put the victims mind at ease by explaining housing and care is in place so they will not be sent to a nursing facility or back to the abuser. Assure her that all her friends and family are now aware and love and support her (nomatter what the abuser has planted in her head)
✔️ - Encourage victim to let police take her to the station to photograph any visible signs of violence and to do a rape kit if the abuser has also been sexually forcing themselves on her. She will be vulnerable and frightened, this causes victims not to undergo these procedures right away (if at all!), allowing time to pass and evidence to fade. It's incredibly important these things are done as soon after they've occurred as possible.
To find out more information on Domestic Violence towards people with disabilities visit www.savinglives.org.uk Spotlight #2 Disabled People and Domestic Abuse