March 27, 2018 Domestic Violence and Disabilities 0 Comments

Trauma Disables and Disability Traumatizes

A three-part article exploring the insidious intersection of disability and domestic abuse (originally published in BFL’s Breaking Barriers in Domestic Violence April 2018 E-newsletter). 
Barrier Free Living is dedicated to helping people with disabilities thrive in their communities, at our programs and shelters in the New York area.

We address the issues facing survivors of domestic violence with disabilities across our programs (Secret GardenFreedom House and Barrier Free Living Apartments) through safe shelter and housing, trauma-informed counseling, and advocacy. At our Transitional Housing program, we provide shelter to adults with disabilities.

In this three part article, we will explore: why people with disabilities are at a higher risk of abuse; the likelihood of negative trauma reactions to the abuse; and how trauma and abuse can actually cause or further contribute to a disability.Higher Risk of Abuse for People with Disabilities

Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often at a higher risk of undergoing traumatic experiences that challenge their ability to thrive, grow and reach their fullest potential.

Children with disabilities are four times more likely than nondisabled children to experience violence (World Health Organization) and people with disabilities are three times as likely as no-disabled people to be victims of violent crime (National Center for Victims of Crime).Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities (American Psychological Association).

There are many reasons that people with disabilities are at increased risk of experiencing violence and abuse. For example, people with developmental disabilities or brain injury may have difficulty understanding what is happening to them or how to get help because of cognitive processing problems.

People who have limited mobility may have difficulty leaving the situation, particularly if the abuser breaks or prevents them from using a mobility device such as a wheelchair. People who experience communication barriers, such as those who are Deaf, may not be able to communicate what is happening to them to service providers.In addition, victims with disabilities often rely on caregivers and/or loved ones to help with transportation, activities of daily living, or financial support, which increases their vulnerability to abuse.Recognizing these barriers for survivors with disabilities, Barrier Free Living has taken steps to ensure our programs are accessible.

We recently hired a Deaf social worker and a Deaf case manager to work exclusively with deaf survivors at our nonresidential site and our emergency shelter. Survivors who come to Freedom House shelter are allowed to bring home attendants and nurses if needed so they can continue to live independently, without relying on the abuser for care.

Our Secret Garden program collaborated** on an American Sign Language (ASL) video to share information with Deaf and Hard of Hearing victims of domestic violence (view the film here) and Freedom House collaborated**on an ASL video as a greeting for Deaf and Hard of Hearing new residents.At Freedom House, the social worker and entitlements specialist will also assist the survivor in opening a public assistance case or getting access to their social security benefits so they can be financially independent.Up Next: In part two of this article, launching Tuesday on our website, we will look at how risk factors that increase the likelihood of abuse for people with disabilities can also increase negative trauma reactions.

**The videos were created by the New York County Collaborative, a partnership between BFL, Office of the New York County District Attorney, Crime Victims Treatment Center, Harlem Independent Living Center and CONNECT, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.Contributor Sara Eldridge, LMSW, Assistant Director of Social Services at Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter offers her insights on Freedom House’s work with male domestic violence survivors. Sara is a licensed social worker who received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in 2015.  Sara has been a social worker at Freedom House since 2015, where she provides individual and group counseling to adults, children and adolescents. Prior to Freedom House she worked with youth in alternatives to detention and incarceration programs, student veterans and crime victims.

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