An often overlooked group of victim-survivors of domestic violence are those with disabilities, however, these individuals experience abuse at a higher rate compared to those without a disability.
Barriers to Services
There is a disproportionate number of Native Americans and Alaska Natives who have a disability, however, there is a lack of Indigenous-focused disability services in the nation. According to the National Congress of American Indians, “Some barriers to limiting access to services are inadequate funding, personnel shortages, lack of coordination among agencies, lack of consultation with tribes, and problems identifying persons eligible for services.” These barriers present even bigger challenges for victim-survivor Native Americans with disabilities.
Disabilities can fall on a wide spectrum. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
Tactics of Abuse
Although not all people with disabilities require care taking or assistance, some do. In those situations, an abuser may manipulate their partner’s disability to maintain power and control over them perpetuating domestic violence. People with disabilities who are being abused may experience violence that specifically targets their disability. Including:
- Withholding disability checks
- They might try to gain power of attorney or guardianship over their partner
- Telling the disabled person they are not allowed or able to do something
- Insisting they have to make all of the disabled person’s decisions for their own good or protection
- Refusing to help the disabled person complete life tasks as punishment or means of control
- Withholding medicines (both prescription and spiritual)
- Over or under medicating
- Taking away assistive devices
- Withholding care or neglect
- Performing sexual acts when/if the disability does not allow the person to give consent
- Harming or threatening to harm the disabled person’s service animal
- Keeping the disabled person from the doctor or other important appointments
- Invalidating the disabled person and telling them their disability isn't real or is “fake”
Ableism and domestic violence can overlap. Ableism is “the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.” Domestic violence can happen to anyone including those with disabilities. In fact, it is not uncommon for an abusive partner to leverage any potential vulnerability or difference as a tool of their abuse. For example, when an intimate partner takes the harmful and false viewpoint of “I am fully able therefore I get to act/say/do as I please with you,” this is both ableism and domestic violence. Having a disability can make it harder to find and access resources. There are many things fully-able individuals take for granted when it comes to accessing resources -- for example, easily available transportation.
How to HelpIf you believe a friend, relative or community member with a disability is experiencing domestic or dating violence it can be hard to know how to help. Some things you can do are:
- Ensure they have access to a phone at all times
- Be willing to look into different resources in your area that are multifaceted and trained to help those with disabilities and who are experiencing domestic violence
- Look into programs that are willing to work together to provide support to the victim-survivors
- Call, text or chat with StrongHearts Native Helpline advocate to talk about ways you can support the victim-survivor
- And most importantly, believe victim-survivors when they tell you their story
While we can generalize how perpetrators could abuse victim-survivors with disabilities, it is hard to wrap it all up into one bundle. Disabilities cover a wide range of individuals and domestic violence intersects in many different ways.
READ: Supporting Survivors with Disabilities
READ: NCEDSV People with Disabilities Resource Page
READ: NIWRC Domestic Violence and Disabilities
READ: Safety Planning for Domestic Violence Victims with Disabilities
READ: Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services
READ: Understanding Disabilities in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities
READ: Violence Against Women with Disabilities
Karen Hughes, Ph.D.; Prof Mark A Bellis, DSc; Lisa Jones, BSc; Sara Wood, MSc; Geoff Bates, MSc; Lindsay Eckley, Ph.D.; Ellie McCoy, MSc; Christopher Mikton, Ph.D.; Tom Shakespeare, Ph.D.; Alana Officer, MPH. Articles | Volume 379, Issue 9826, P1621-1629, April 28, 2012 “Prevalence and risk of violence against adults with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies” February 28, 2012, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61851-5. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)61851-5/fulltext. Accessed 8 August 2021.
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"Introduction To The Americans With Disabilities Act", Beta.ADA.Gov, 2021, https://beta.ada.gov/topics/intro-to-ada/. Accessed 8 August 2021.
BrowserMedia www.browsermedia.com, "Disabilities | NCAI", Ncai.Org, 2021, https://www.ncai.org/policy-issues/education-health-human-services/disabilities. Accessed 8 August 2021.
Endabusepwd.Org, 2021, https://www.endabusepwd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Serving-Survivors-with-Disabilities-Webinar-Guide-PDF-.pdf. Accessed 8 August 2021.
"Abuse In Disability Communities", The Hotline, 2021, https://www.thehotline.org/resources/abuse-in-disability-communities/. Accessed 8 August 2021.