Research has found people with disabilities - particularly women - experience domestic violence at far higher rates, and yet this is an epidemic rarely spoken about. Jonathan here discusses the issue, and the consequences of the silence around it.
As well as being a strongly committee EDV Youth Councillor, I’m also very passionate about disability rights; I’m a Youth Patron at Ambitious about Autism and Advisory Board Member for Great with Disability, where I’m able to make the case for employing disabled (in particular, autistic) workers to a variety of businesses and organisations. But I’ve noticed that often, when I tell people about my roles, they almost always view my domestic violence and my disability work as totally separate, despite statistics showing that people with disabilities are at a huge risk of enduring domestic violence.
Though this isn’t a topic which is often addressed, the statistics are out there should you care to look. Disabled people of both genders are far more at risk than their non-disabled counterparts; disabled women, in particular, are at very high risk. Disability also massively affects the ability of people who endure to escape their situation. Those with physical disabilities will naturally find it much harder to flee a violent partner, and may well be totally unable to. Disabilities affecting social communication and understanding, such as autism, can make it difficult for them to identify when they are being abused, as well as making it difficult to communicate their situation to others. Sensory disabilities such as blindness and deafness likewise make escaping and communicating a challenge.
It puzzles me why this connection isn’t made more often. It’s true that disability isn’t overtly mentioned in the common media narrative, which overwhelmingly presents domestic violence between monogamous intimate partners, perpetrated by a man against a woman. But then again, there is nothing overtly ruling out disability in this scenario, whereas other groups who endure (same-sex couples, and men who endure at the hands of women, for example) are explicitly ruled out.
It’s possible that disability – whether mental or physical, visible or non-visible – doesn’t fit the narrative because it has the potential, in couples where one partner is disabled and one non-disabled, to skew the assumed gender roles of domestic violence. If the disabled partner is female, the assumption of the man as the imposing, stronger (both physically and economically) aggressor is magnified; but if the partner is male, the tables are turned. Given statistics show that disabled people ultimately are one of the most marginalised groups when it comes to socio-economic freedom and power, a disabled man in a heterosexual relationship would in fact become the “weaker” participant; and so, more likely to be affected by abuse. As this would threaten the dominant narrative, it may well be why the issue is ignored.
Or it may be that disability simply isn’t visible enough in society for people to consider it linked to wider issues like domestic violence – despite the fact that almost 20% of the population are disabled, too often it is an afterthought when it comes to media/cultural awareness and decision-making in public policy. Even within diversity initiatives, disability is often tackled only once other issues have been, like gender equality, racial equality, social mobility and LGBT rights – most likely because disability awareness is lacking, and it simply isn’t as visible as these equally important causes.
It’s odd, however, given that domestic violence is a large cause of mental health issues – which fall under the legal definition of ‘disability’ just as much as physical impairments and neurological disorders. Not only are people with mental health issues more likely to experience domestic violence, but the process of abuse causes many to develop – abused women are three times as likely to experience anxiety or depression than non-abused women, for example, while one-third of female suicide attempts (half of those of BME women) can be traced to experiences of domestic violence. Given the increased awareness of mental health in recent years, you might expect and increased awareness of how domestic violence intersects with disability; yet this hasn’t materialised.
So, what can be done to change this? For my part, I’ll be doing my best to raise awareness; I’m passionate about the need for domestic violence awareness to reach further than the archetypal narrative of violence in a heterosexual relationship against a woman – though this is the most common form of domestic violence and is an incredibly important issue, we can never allow those whose circumstances differ to be ignored. If you want to do so too, why not consider joining the Youth Council, writing and sharing a blog on the subject, or even just raising the topic in conversation – you’d be surprised how many people are willing to listen once a dialogue is started.
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