What are the barriers to escaping violence?
Domestic violence is based on power and control - dynamics even more pronounced in relationships where the victims are impaired. While it is enormously difficult for battered women in general to escape violent intimate partner relationships, women with disabilities face even greater obstacles in devising safe strategies for escape, and finding appropriate resources to help them if they do manage to leave. These challenges include:
- Dependence on abuser for physical, economic, medical, and/or social needs: Women with disabilities often fear that they will be further neglected, harmed, isolated, and/or abandoned if they lose their caregivers/intimate partners, even if their caregivers/intimate partners are abusive. Some victims with disabilities lack the skills or abilities to access help independently.
Read a personal story of a woman with disabilities trying to escape abuse.
“You’re My Pretty Bird in a Cage”: Disability, Domestic Violence, and Survival http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/133/over1.html
- Lack of appropriate resources for battered women with disabilities: Much of the information distributed by service providers is not accessible to victims with disabilities (e.g. Braille). Even if these women are able to reach out to general domestic violence resources in their communities, many programs are not equipped to identify and/or appropriately address their special needs:
- Few disability-related service providers identify women who are in abusive situations and refer them appropriately. Only 19% of service providers indicate that they routinely ask their clients with disabilities about abuse.
- 95% of rehabilitation service providers indicate that abused women with disabilities interfere with their vocational or independent living goals.
- Often domestic violence shelters or centers are not fully equipped to deal with the special circumstances facing victims with disabilities, such as providing Braille materials or TTY (text telephone) machines for sight-impaired or Video Relay for hearing-impaired.
- Only 35% of battered women’s shelters have disability awareness training for their staff, and only 16% have a staff person who specifically provides services to victims with disabilities (“Violence Against Women with Disabilities: Findings from 1992-2002.” www.bcm.edu/crowd).
- Fear of how battered women will be judged in the court system.
Women - especially battered women with disabilities - face enormous obstacles in protecting themselves and keeping custody of their children within an often biased and uneducated legal system. Judges and attorneys may believe that a battered disabled woman cannot independently care for her children, and unfairly use her impairment to deny her custody. Fearing just such an outcome, these women may be reluctant to obtaining protective orders and/or pursue custody of their children through the court – making the justice system yet another barrier for battered women with disabilities trying to protect themselves and their children against further abuse.
When seeking legal services, before going to court, it is a good idea to specifically ask if there are court advocates and/or attorneys who understand the obstacles and work specifically with disabled women. The right advocate could be a life-saving asset in a court system that may need to be educated.
Learn more about the domestic violence and the legal system.
Should women with disabilities have safety plans?
Safety planning is essential to minimize risk while escaping an abusive relationship, especially for women with disabilities.
Different disabilities call for different strategies and resources to address abuse. “For each disability type, different dynamics of abuse come into play. For women with physical disabilities, limitations in physically escaping violent situations are in sharp contrast to women with hearing impairments, who may be able to escape but face communication barriers in most settings designed to help battered women.” (Nosek and Howland, 1998).
Few traditional safety plans address the individualized needs of women with disabilities. For example, women who are physically disabled and reliant on their abusive partners for their basic needs will find many of the “standard” necessary actions difficult (e.g. make copies of birth certificate, social security card, medical records, etc.). Women who are mentally retarded may need very special assistance to design safety plans around their particular cognitive impairments.
While every safety plan should be individualized and made with the help of a domestic violence professional, the following action may be helpful to many disabled battered women fleeing abusive relationships:
- Hide identification, medical cards, social security cards, social security award letter, proof of disability, money, checkbook, etc. in a safe place that you or a trusted confidant can access when needed
- Plan how to get out safely, and line up any necessary assistance from a trusted individual
- Keep extra medications/prescriptions on hand
- Make changes, if necessary, to the address for your SSI/SSDI benefits
- Arrange a ride to the shelter if you do not drive
- Be sure the shelter can accommodate people with disabilities (including service animals, special equipment, medical companions, etc.) (The Kansas Department of Health and Environment www.kdheks.gov/dva/safety_planning.html).
Use the resources below to learn more about safety planning.
Learn more about general safety planning