Domestic Violence
& Disability

The number one issue of Women with Disabilities nationwide is Domestic Abuse.

BFL is a recognized expert in the field.

Trending News.Critical Facts.

Breaking Barriers in DV

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and cutting edge solutions about domestic violence and disabilities. View Past Issues


Disability and Abuse Project Releases Report on Abuse of People with Disabilities

The Disability and Abuse Project released a report that gives low grades to state and local agencies for failing to respond adequately to widespread abuse of children and adults with disabilities. The Report — “Abuse of People with Disabilities: Victims and Their Families Speak Out” — analyzes the results of what may be [...]

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Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot

Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot was recently released at a congressional briefing in Washington, DC.  The report provides an overview of the latest research on the incidence and prevalence of sexual abuse of children with disabilities…

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Link Between DV and Traumatic Brain Injury Mindy McCready

A recent article by Fox News discusses the relationship of the link between domestic violence and traumatic brain injury, noting that: There have been a lot of questions about country singer Mindy McCready’s substance abuse and its association with her recent suicide. But the question we should be asking is: [...]

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BFL Featured in NY Times Article Part of Neediest Cases

An article (excerpt below) in  Jan. 14, 2013 NY Times, about Secret Garden consumer Alejandrina Cruz. Alejandrina Cruz may be the only Bronx grandmother with a kung fu movie collection to rival that of a subway salesman laden with cartons of contraband. Ms. [...]

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Court Legal Interpreting Coalition Seeks Feedback

Court Legal Interpreting Coalition (CLIC) is offering assistance and a chance to share your experience and stories. Did you get an interpreter for your day in court? Did you understand your interpreter? Did the interpreter understand you? CLIC wants to collect your information, your experiences and any concerns you may [...]

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BFL Launches Domestic Violence & Disability Expertise Page

BFL has launched a website page specific to facts and information around its expertise on the topics of Domestic Violence and Disability.  Click link below to view the BFL team’s culling of reports to create a critical ‘Do You Know’ sheet, with items like: Do you know: The number one [...]

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Self-Defense Among Women With Disabilities

Former BFL Secret Garden team member Molly Burke  Freyer co authored (with Michelle S. Ballan) the report: Self-Defense Among Women With Disabilities An Unexplored Domain, stating that ‘Women with disabilities are frequent victims of domestic violence, yet scant research has examined self-protective mechanisms that could mitigate this abuse.’ View the [...]

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Half the Sky Movement Highlights AWARE & Freedom House

The Half the Sky Movement, which is ‘cutting across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide’ highlighted the work of AWARE: Assisting Women Through Action, Resources and Education in a recent blog post. The article points out that AWARE  [...]

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Our Expertise


An Innovative New Method for Measuring Safety

Individuals and families fleeing domestic violence can find safety and support at BFL's Freedom House Emergency Shelter—but their life-long journey to living a 'safe' life free of abuse only begins there.

A key component of the overall healing experience at Freedom House involves comprehensive safety planning. Whether it's developing a preparedness plan (always know where vital identification information and important phone numbers are); or building an inner knowledge of red flag warning signs (a new partner is acting in a way that's signaling potential abuse), safety planning is crucial.

In 2011 Freedom House partnered with Dr. Alisha Ali, Associate Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University to develop new, state of the art methods to measure safety. An interdisciplinary team was formed including directors, social workers, housing/entitlements staff, and occupational therapists. The team conducted focus groups over a period of two months with residents and staff to identify attitudes, skills and behaviors related to five areas of safety: travel, electronic (such as cell phone, GPS, stalking devices, computers, internet use, facebook, twitter), finances, location, and safety in relationships.

Working together and focusing on these five targeted areas of safety, the team developed a unique safety survey. (For more on the safety survey:

The survey is completed by a Freedom House resident at several points during their 135 day stay, including:

  • Within the first two weeks of arrival at Freedom House
  • After being at Freedom House for 8 weeks
  • During their week of discharge
  • When they return to Freedom House for a support group called "Beyond Freedom". This group focuses on maintaining safety after leaving a domestic violence shelter.

As a resident completes each survey, the Freedom House team evaluates the responses, measuring the level of understanding and comprehension around safety. The survey is reviewed with the resident to discuss their knowledge of safety and how it has evolved.

Read the related survivors story by clicking here.

Paul Feuerstein: BFL's Expertise in Domestic Violence & Disability

In 1986, I hired Liz Lederman, a new graduate from NYU’s Deafness Rehabilitation Master’s Program, to join our clinic team.  She had around 12 years’ experience working with disabled victims of abuse.  Prior to her joining us, we had no knowledge of abuse among people with a disability.  We quickly learned a lot.  After she taught us to ask the right questions, we found that many of the women in our program had histories of abuse.  Once we asked the right questions, we heard stories of childhood abuse, abuse by family or caregivers and abuse by people who provided disability services.  Those early experiences gave us a passion for the work.  We advocated for services and shelter for victims with disabilities.  Over the course of our history, we have worked with thousands of individuals and created the largest dv intervention program in the country. 

It all started with asking the questions.  We share here some basic information culled from a variety of sources that spells out the need for victims with disabilities.  We invite you to subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, “Breaking Barriers in Domestic Violence,” where we share some aspect of our expertise in every issue.

Do You  Know: Critical Information about Domestic Violence & Disabilities

Do you know:

The number one issue of Women with Disabilities nationwide is Domestic Abuse.

  • 80% of women with disabilities have been sexually assaulted.
  • Increased rates of abuse by both men and women with disabilities from 31-83%
  • For women with mental retardation & other intellectual impairments rates from 40-90%
  • Approximately 5 million vulnerable adults annually become crime victims.  (NAS, Petersilia, 2001)
  • Children with disabilities have more than twice the rate of physical abuse, and almost twice the rate of sexual abuse

People with Disabilities stay in Dangerous conditions significantly longer

  • 11.3 years vs. 7.1 years in situations of physical abuse
  • 8.3 years vs. 4.1 years in situations of sexual abuse (Baylor University Study)
  • The extent of the abuse is much worse for women with disabilities (Nosek, 1999)

Who will abuse?

  • It is estimated that in 98% of cases of sexual abuse, the perpetrator is well known to, trusted by, and in a care providing position to the victim.
  • While in 32 percent of cases, abusers were family members or acquaintances, 44 percent had a relationship with the victim specifically related to the person's disability (such as residential care staff, transportation providers and personal care attendants). 
  • Abusers typically abuse as many as 70 people before ever getting caught. (Valenti-Hein & Schwartz, 1995).

Perpetrators seek people with disabilities as they are less likely to be caught or be convicted.

  • Between 70% and 85% of cases of abuse against adults with disabilities go unreported.
  • 5% of crimes against people with disabilities prosecuted, vs. 70% for crimes against people with no disabilities.

Abusers who are primary care providers will often exploit their power when abusing victims

  • Withholding medications,
  • Withholding or destroying assistive devices like wheelchairs or TDDs for Deaf women
  • Hurting service animals
  • Keeping victims in inaccessible housing
  • Isolating victims from disability services

Victims who report abuse have increased risk of being institutionalized, losing basic decision-making rights or custody of children

Parents with disabilities are the only distinct community of Americans who struggle to retain custody of their children because of their status.

  • Removal rates of parents with psychiatric disabilities is as high as 70 – 80%
  • Removal rates of parents with intellectual disabilities is as high as 80%
  • Extremely high removal rates and loss of parental rights for parents with sensory or physical disabilities.
  • Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce.

(“Rocking the Cradle”


BFL Awarded Grant for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Survivors

BFL was awarded a $500,000 Grant for our proposal to establish protocols for Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing individuals who have survived sexual assault and/or domestic violence. This three-year award acknowledges the need to establish protocols, advocacy and coordinated services for a portion of the population that is typically under-served. With BFL as the lead agency, we have formed a Collaborative team with the Harlem Independence Center (HILC), the District Attorney’s Office of New York (DANY), St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital's Crime Victims Treat Center (CVTC), All Hands In Motion ASL Interpreters and CONNECT of NYC. Our combined expertise in the areas of sexual assault, disabilities, law enforcement and advocacy and access will allow us to create best practices and policies and procedures that will position us to spearhead the delivery of services to Deaf individuals.

The Project has a local focus and will serve Deaf victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence in New York City.  The project will be implemented by a collaborative Multi-Disciplinary Team which includes partners from key sectors: Barrier Free Living (the lead agency and a Victim and Individuals with Disabilities service organization), Harlem Independent Living Center (Victim and Individuals with Disabilities service organization), Crime Victims Treatment Center at St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital (for victims of violent crimes), CONNECT (Legal advocacy and community training) and the NY County District Attorney Office (prosecution and support to crime victims).  The Vera Institute studied the experience of 40 previous grant recipients of the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence against Women Disability Grants and identified critical elements of successful collaborations; this proposed project has adopted all of these recommendations. The partners will collaborate through the MDT to plan and implement creative approaches to:

ü      Mobilize a range of resources to enhance the availability of ASL certified Interpreters;

ü      Cross train staff within provider agencies, law enforcement and the courts;

ü      Develop protocol for rapid cross partner referrals (with Deaf individual’s permission);

ü      Identify models of inclusion for Deaf individuals requiring services from any agency;

ü      Ensure safety and confidentiality in planning and services;

ü      Map city resources for providing trauma informed care to increase access.

ü      Implement evidence based approaches, such as peer mentors, to enhance knowledge and trust between the Deaf victims of SA/DV and service providers/law enforcement/courts.

ü      Track and measure the programmatic and fiscal efficacy of use of ASL certified interpreters, cross training, models of inclusion and peer support to ensure sustainability.

Click escape button if your abuser enters the room