Trigger Warning: This blog contains information about domestic violence.
There are some things that are difficult to admit to ourselves and excruciating to admit to other people. I have been the victim of domestic abuse in more than one intimate relationship in my lifetime. In different relationships the abuse came in different forms. In my first marriage, which lasted 6 months, the abuse started as verbal and escalated to physical abuse quickly. In other relationships the abuse was severe control and jealousy. I don’t have low self-esteem, but I do forgive easily and see mostly what is good in people. I have considered that I am an “easy target” for abuse, but I see it now more than ever. I have a job I love, financial independence, great family and lots of good friends, which means that I am not as vulnerable as some, yet I have experienced abuse. I never saw this as being related to my disability, but predatory people often target partners with disabilities. Many people think that their options for romantic partners are limited because of the societal bias that existed against people with disabilities, therefore they remain in abusive relationships.
My situation made me curious about how many people with disabilities are in abusive relationships and the statistics are staggering. The American Psychological Association reports that women with disabilities have a 40% greater chance of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities.
Here are a few other disturbing statistics:
Forms of Abuse against People with Disabilities
- People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to experience violent crime as people without a disability.
- People with disabilities are more than 3 times as likely to be sexually assaulted as people without a disability.
- Police are less likely to respond to reported violence against people with disabilities.
- A survey conducted by the Spectrum Institute Disability and Abuse Project found that 70% of the people with disabilities surveyed had been abused in some way by a partner, family member , care giver, acquaintance or stranger.
Ways you can help yourself
- Verbal and psychological abuse
- Threats and intimidation
- Withholding medication
- Harming a service animal
- Isolating a person with a disability
- Taking away or destroying an assistive device, like a wheelchair
- Financial abuse by misusing a person’s money
- Connect with supportive and caring people, those who will not blame you for the abuse.
- Get a restraining order if necessary. It will protect you from being harassed, threatened, approached, accosted or even contacted. Once you have obtained either the temporary or permanent restraining order, keep it with you at all times.
is the link to a document titled Safety Planning for Domestic Violence Victims with Disabilities that was created by the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence. It might give you some ideas on creating a plan that works for you.
- Don’t be afraid to call the police. Abusers will try to use shame to keep you from “making a scene” or “embarrassing yourself in front of neighbors”.
- Pack a bag and keep it at another safe location. Make sure to pack keys, important documents, extra clothes and medication and take the bag to a friend’s or family member’s house, where you feel safe.
- Let trusted friends, neighbors and family know about your situation. Create a visual or verbal signal to use when you need help.
- Teach your children a safety plan. Pack clothes and necessities for your kids and take them to your safe place. Teach them a code word or a signal that means they should leave the house and call for help. Make sure to practice the plan with your kids several times, so they remember it in the heat of the moment.
There are several organization that you can reach out to if you are the victim of any form of domestic violence.
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women
- Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services
- Love is Respect
If you have ever been the victim of abuse, you know that eventually you start to internalize the negative messages you have been receiving. This can cause you to feel unlovable and you are then more susceptible to being in an abusive relationship. Some people living with disabilities already see themselves as unlovable which compounds their vulnerability. In order to break this cycle you need to actively create and implement a plan to learn to love yourself.
- Spend time each day focusing on yourself and your thoughts about your relationship. Journaling is a helpful way to see the patterns that happen in an abusive relationship. There are four phases of the abuse cycle; click here to learn more. It can be easy to forget the abuse when you are in the reconciliation or calm phases of the abuse cycle. It’s helpful to write down the violent outbursts, name calling and threats that happen in “incident or acting out” phase of the abuse cycle.
- Write yourself love notes, listing all of your great qualities. List them out on a piece of paper and post it someplace that you will see it every day. Make a point to read the list out loud to yourself at least once a day. Even if you don’t believe them at first, do it anyway. Eventually you will rewire your brain and shift to knowing that you are kind, beautiful and smart.
- Join a domestic violence support group or call one of the many domestic abuse hotline that will put you in touch someone trained to help you work through your thoughts and feelings.