Sunday, 8 March 2015

Disabled women are more likely to experience domestic violence

Today is International Women's Day.  It'd be nice to bust out a long, deep, meaningful post about the experience of being a woman on the autism spectrum, but I'm a weepy mess of post cyclone stress and exhaustion, so this will be short.  But not sweet.

Women with disability are at more risk of domestic violence than the general female population.  Women with intellectual disability are at even higher risk than women with other forms of disability.

We need to talk about this.  And we need to end it.

Domestic violence awareness meme from the South African Salvation Army. Click here or the image to view the original

There are many, many potential reasons why disabled women are more at risk of abuse at the hands of their partners, and why they may not be able to leave their abuser.  Many of those reasons are related to wider disability issues relating to access to services and employment, and the way our society thinks of and treats our disabled citizens.

She may be dependent on her partner for physical care, transport, social support, or other things she can't do for herself due to her disability.  There may be no service available to provide that care if she leaves.  She's also more likely to be economically dependent on her partner because she can't work, can't find work, or can only work at reduced capacity due to her disability. 

A big part of domestic violence is isolating the victim from her family, friends and support network.  (Sorry #notallmen, but 95% of Australian domestic violence victims are female, and 90% of perpetrators male.)  People on the spectrum often already have a weak, fragmented or nonexistent support network, so destroying it is all the easier.

She may be unable to detect subtle forms of abuse like emotional manipulation due to her social limitations.  She may also recognise the behaviour as unhealthy and wrong, but since the general theme of everything people on the spectrum are told about interacting with others is that we're always wrong, she second-guesses her judgement.

She probably has a lifetime's worth of conditioning that she's a worthless, shameful, inconvenient burden who should be grateful that anyone would have her, and that she doesn't deserve any better.

The issue of women on the spectrum's vulnerability to domestic violence is a very, very serious one, but one that receives very little attention.  The public discourse around the autism spectrum revolves heavily around children.  When adults are talked about it's seldom in the context of intimate relationships, unless it's about how hard it is to be NT with a partner on the spectrum, or how amazing and inspirational it is that a person on the spectrum could have a relationship at all.

Links, resources and things to read:

Double The Odds: an older but excellent piece from Women with Disabilities Australia
HURT: domestic and family violence
Domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia: an overview of the issues (link takes you to the section specific to women with disability)
Information and resources for people with disability experiencing domestic violence
Another page of resources
Women with disability at high risk of domestic violence
People with Disability Australia and Domestic Violence NSW are working to improve domestic violence services to people with disability.