Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Sunday, December 3, 2017

CN: descriptions of specific types of domestic violence faced by disabled people

Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence as non-disabled women. Years of vicious cuts have created what that the UN has condemned as a “human catastrophe” for disabled people in the UK, who have been at the forefront of the fight against austerity. Particularly today, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it is crucial that we talk about the links between disability, domestic violence and austerity.

Experiencing domestic violence when you are disabled

Disabled women and non-binary people can, and do, experience the same sexual, physical, emotional or financial abuse and violence as non-disabled women and non-binary people. However, being disabled can mean that you experience additional layers of power and control from perpetrators who exploit the fact you are disabled. For example, an abuser could refuse to give you your medicine, refuse you access to food, damage or hide your mobility aids, refuse to help you go to the toilet or wash, or claim disability benefits on your behalf and limit your access to those funds.

We often think of domestic violence as only happening within intimate partner relationships (i.e. between a man and his girlfriend or wife), but domestic violence occurs in a multitude of other domestic relationships (and in LGBQ relationships). For disabled women and non-binary people, perpetrators are often carers, family members or partners, or someone who is all of those things at once.

As well as having different experiences of abuse, disabled women are also much more likely to experience this abuse and violence over a longer period of time, and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of the violence.[1] On top of this, when they seek help, often they are not believed, or their experiences as disabled women and non-binary people are not understood. This further perpetuates the harm.

How can they leave if there is nowhere to go?

What if a disabled survivor wants to leave? Disabled women and nonbinary people are faced with multiple barriers on top of those faced by non-disabled people. Often it is not just the abuser they will be leaving but also a home that is adapted specifically for their needs, or a care package that is put in place for them.

And where are they supposed to go? The decimation of funding to refuges has meant that 2 in 3 survivors are turned away because there aren’t enough beds. Accessible refuge spaces are even less available: nearly 10% of referrals are turned down precisely because the refuge is not accessible to them. 

Austerity crushes independence for disabled people

Cuts to domestic violence services are part of the wider austerity cuts that result in disabled women being robbed of their ability to live independently. Just a few examples include the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of ESA and the horrific Work Capability Assessments, the Bedroom tax disproportionately affecting those with disabilities, and the drastic changes to PIP designed to remove support from thousands of disabled people. As a result of these brutal cuts, the UN’s recent investigations concluded that Tory austerity amounts to a “grave and systematic violation of the rights of disabled people”.

Women are told they have to use nappies despite not being incontinent, because there is no one to support them to go to the toilet. Children are removed from the care of their disabled mothers as social services deem them not to be capable of parenthood. Disabled women wait in fear of the arbitrary sanctions from job centre and DWP letters informing them they no longer meet criteria for benefits. This insecurity and humiliation all feeds into vulnerability, isolation and dependency on potentially abusive partners, family members and carers.

The obliteration of disabled people’s rights and independence, through cuts that have systematically removed social security, has had one particularly significant effect: disabled women are left at greater risk of domestic violence, and face even more barriers to receiving support. These cuts kill.

As Sisters Uncut we recognise that disabled people, like DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), have been fighting back against these vicious government attacks for many years.[10] We are committed to centring disabled women and non-binary people and learning from the work of disabled activists, scholars and community members in our fight against austerity and violence.

Our aim is to maximise the accessibility of our work, our organising and our political action so that disabled people feel empowered and accommodated in our struggle against domestic, sexual and state violence.



[1]  Non-binary people are not included in this statistic.