, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 177-189

Vulnerabilities for Abuse Among Women with Disabilities

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Research findings reveal that women with disabilities experience rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that are comparable to, if not greater than, women without disabilities. Disability specialists propose that women with disabilities experience specific vulnerabilities to abuse. The question in the present study was, “What types of abuse experienced by women with physical disabilities are directly related to their disability?” Of the 504 women with disabilities who responded to a questionnaire assessing sexuality and relationships, 181 of the women completed open-ended questions about abuse. Using qualitative techniques, we analyzed their responses and identified disability-specific types of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Certain disability-related settings increased vulnerability for abuse. The need for personal assistance with daily living created additional vulnerability. We conclude that disability is not a protective factor against abuse; indeed, it often serves to reduce a woman's emotional and physical defenses. These findings indicate a need for the development of disability-sensitive abuse screening instruments, and development and testing of interventions to assist women with disabilities in recognizing abuse, protecting themselves in abusive situations, and removing themselves from potentially abusive relationships and situations.