December 8, 2017 Advocacy, BFL News, Breaking Barriers in DV, Domestic Violence and Disabilities 0 Comments

People with Disabilities Experience Domestic Violence, Too: An FAQ

Barrier Free Living welcomes writer Sarah Kim who will be contributing articles about domestic violence and disabilities.

Sarah Kim: formerly a writer at @dosomething | now: graduate student at Columbia Journalism School | social media: @sarahskkim

Photo: Sarah Kim. Data: Vera Institute

In the past couple of months, media have covered an influx of sexual violence allegations, coupled with social media activism. But one group has largely been omitted from the conversation: people with disabilities. The voices of the population are often unheard in discussions of sexual and domestic violence.

Over the next few months, I’m going to follow several domestic-violence victims with disabilities and share their stories. In those stories, we will see how institutional systems either serve or fail to serve these individuals.

To start this series, here is an FAQ on people with disabilities, domestic violence, and how those two concepts intersect:

How many people in the United States have disabilities?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” Nearly 1 in 5, or 56.7 million, people have a disability in the United States. This makes them the largest minority group in America.

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Why are people with disabilities not often included in discussions on domestic violence discussion?

Two Rutgers University professors, Sara-Beth Plummer and Patricia A. Findley, state in their 2011 study that the scarcity of attention to abuse of people with disabilities is due in part to society’s reluctance to acknowledge that violence toward this population might be occurring. Plummer and Findley conducted a literature review on studies about abuse of women with disabilities, and found that in the 36 domestic violence shelters they inspected, the staff were not trained on how to assist victims with disabilities, and their facilities did not comply to ADA regulations.

How often do people with disabilities experience domestic violence?

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization that uses research to improve institutional systems, people with disabilities are three times more likely to experience domestic violence than are their nondisabled counterparts, based on their 2015 study, “Measuring Capacity to Serve Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors with Disabilities.”

This study was a part of the Measuring Capacity to Serve Survivors with Disabilities project, which aimed to evaluate the scope of the domestic and sexual violence prevalent in the disabled community. The Vera Institute collaborated with the U.S. Department of Justice and Office on Violence Against Women to conduct this study

Who commits violence or abuse against people with disabilities?

According to the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people with disabilities are usually abused by someone they know, such as a partner, family member, or caregiver. The abuse can include issues special to disabled, such as withholding of assistive devices. Those who need help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, and eating are at a greater risk since they are more vulnerable.

Since the perpetrators are often the primary source of care for people with disabilities, the victims may feel they must tolerate the abuse to receive the care and assistance they need, according to the Vera Institute.

SafePlace in Austin, Texas, one of the nation’s few advocacy centers for assisting disabled victims of domestic and sexual violence, states on its website: “Perpetrators may perceive individuals with disabilities as easy targets for victimization. In some ways, they are correct. Individuals with physical disabilities may be less able to defend themselves or to escape violent situations. “

What are the statistics on violence and abuse against people with disabilities?

The Vera Institute of Justice created the End Abuse of People with Disabilitiesproject, and compiled statistics on violence against people with disabilities.

They are:

Three times more likely to experience violent victimization as adolescents and adults;

Three times more likely to experience rape, sexual assault, aggravated assault, and robbery;

Three times more likely to be sexually abused as children.

Why are people with disabilities more likely to be abused than their nondisabled peers?

According to the Disability Justice Resource Center, which is a resource guide the legal community to better understand issues related to people with disabilities, abuse is more common because:

Predators may perceive a person with disabilities as vulnerable or less likely to report abuse.

People with disabilities are often isolated and dependent on a small circle of friends or caregivers for support. If these same caregivers are the abusers, the victim may feel required to choose between the potential for continuing abuse and an uncertain future.

Many live in segregated environments, such as group homes, where abuse can occur — and be hidden — more easily. In addition, victims who are abused in group settings may have limited access to police, advocates, medical or social services representatives, or others who can intervene and help.

People with limited communication abilities and/or cognitive disabilities may find it difficult to report abuse effectively.

When did the first accessible domestic violence shelter open, and are there more?

The country’s first domestic violence shelter that was accessible to women with disabilities opened in the New York City suburb of Mamaroneck in 1998. Although the number of domestic violence shelters has increased since then, the number of shelters that accessible to the disabled did not go up, according to information made public. New York City’s Barrier Free Living also serves domestic violence victims with disabilities.

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