Help for disabled women

  • Disabled women are twice more likely to experience domestic violence than non-disabled women (BCS 1995)
  • Disabled women are also likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of the violence (BCS 1995)

Domestic violence against disabled women

Domestic violence is caused by one person’s desire to exert power and control over their partner. Disabled women may experience some or all of the same types of abuse as non-disabled women: physical violence, emotional abuse, financial control or sexual abuse. See our recognising abuse page for more information on the signs of abuse. However, disabled women may also experience other forms of control. For example:

  • Her partner may withhold vital care, medication or food
  • Her partner may remove or damage equipment such as sensory or mobility aids in order to limit her independence
  • If the woman has a visual impairment or mobility problems, her partner may create obstacles around the home so that she is afraid to move around independently
  • Her abuser may claim disability benefits on her behalf and limit her access to funds
  • Her abuser may use her disability to criticise or humiliate her. Or he may threaten to tell social services that she is not fit to live alone

Many disabled women also face additional barriers to safety and support. For example:

  • Some disabled women may be more physically vulnerable than able-bodied women and may be less able to escape or protect themselves from violent attacks
  • Some disabled women may be more socially isolated as a result of their physical dependence on their partner
  • Particularly where her partner is her carer, a disabled woman may have fewer chances to attend medical or other appointments alone, and therefore will have fewer opportunities to talk to someone about the abuse
  • Some disabled women may feel particularly nervous about leaving their partner if they have had special adaptations to their home. Some women may also worry about who will care for them if they move away, or about a change to their care package in a new area that could leave them with less support

Case study – Mary’s story

Mary had been living with domestic violence for 14 years when a particularly brutal attack left her confined to a wheelchair. Her partner had kicked her in the back, leaving her with several fractured and crushed vertebrae and serious damage to her spinal cord. She was in constant, excruciating pain and was unable to use her legs.

However, this did not stop the abuse. Her partner continued to emotionally, physically and sexually abuse her, now also using her disability to torment and control her. Where she went and who she saw was now completely in his control and he would use any opportunity to humiliate and embarrass her. On one family trip to a water park on a boiling hot day he left her sitting in the sun for hours, knowing that she would never complain for fear of ruining a rare treat for her children.

Mary’s health care visitor started to notice bruises on Mary’s body that she could not explain and asked her what was going on. At first Mary was afraid to tell her the truth because she thought she wouldn’t be believed. She had tried to confide in a friend in the past, but instead of helping, her friend had accused Mary of lying. But the health care visitor understood that it might take Mary some time to open up and gave her as many chances as possible to talk about what was happening. Mary gradually started to realise that she could trust her and, when she was ready, she admitted that she was being abused.

The health care worker spoke to social services on Mary’s behalf, who put her in touch with a Refuge community outreach worker. The Refuge worker spoke to her on the phone then arranged to meet her after a physiotherapy session at the hospital, where they could talk alone. They talked through her options and Mary decided that she would like to leave with her children. Her outreach worker helped her to apply for suitable accommodation and they organised for her to move out of the house while her partner was at work. Refuge’s outreach worker helped her to cope emotionally and practically with rebuilding her new life and Mary is now living independently with her children.

Getting help – Refuge is here to support you

Domestic violence is against the law. Everyone has the right to live free from fear.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid): 0808 2000 247.  Textphone is available for women with hearing impairments.

Many of Refuge’s services can meet the needs of women with a wide range of disabilities. For example, many of our refuges are accessible to wheelchair users and have rooms adapted for people with hearing or sight impairments. We also run community-based programmes that can support you if refuge accommodation is not appropriate for your needs.

No two women have the same needs, so every woman that Refuge supports receives a personal support plan that will take all of her circumstances into account to help her rebuild her life in safety. Refuge’s staff will work with local agencies to ensure that all women receive the support they need, regardless of disability.

Women with disabled children

Women with disabled children may also face barriers to seeking help, such as concerns about the child’s health care and the emotional impact that leaving their home may have on the child. If a woman seeks help from Refuge, the needs of her children will also be taken into account in her personal support plan to ensure that she and her children receive the right package of help to start their new lives in safety.

Helping a friend or family member

Disabled women experiencing abuse often face disbelief and misunderstanding when they disclose abuse. This may be because people don’t believe that someone would abuse a disabled person, especially someone who may seem caring and loving on the surface.

If someone you know tells you that she is experiencing domestic violence:

  • Reassure her that you believe her and that you are there to help
  • Explain that she is not alone – one woman in four experiences domestic violence and disabled women are twice as likely to experience abuse
  • Tell her that what is happening is not her fault – abuse is a choice her partner has made and he alone is responsible
  • Be patient and non-judgemental – allow her to make her own decisions in her own time

For more information, visit our helping a friend or family member page.

Further support and information

Dial UK


Disability Rights UK

RNIB helpline

RNID helpline