Being in an abusive relationship can be traumatic for anyone, but for women with disabilities it can be even more so. An article written by a previous domestic violence advocate, published in the FWD/Forward blog, reports that “women with disabilities are at least twice as likely as able women to experience domestic violence and intimate partner abuse."
Women with disabilities can face different forms of violence and emotional cruelty than other victims. A disability can be physical, like MS, or something less obvious, like bipolar disorder or diabetes. Because of these handicaps an abuser could control a woman in different ways than what is normally recognized as abuse. For example, he may withhold medication or medical care, or take control of money, like disability paychecks intended for health care. A woman with a handicap may be even more dependent on her abuser for food and shelter compared to an able bodied woman. Additionally, a physical handicap like paralysis or trouble walking, for example, could be a real barrier in leaving. Legally there are challenges in the courts, like fighting for child custody since some judges can be reluctant to award custody to women with disabilities, especially if the disability is mental illness. Women with disabilities may also be afraid of being institutionalized, which could result from getting involved in the legal system.
There is one group in New York City called Barrier Free Living that is doing tremendously important work to help women with disabilities in abusive relationships. As stated on their website, "Barrier Free Living is our vision. We strive for a world free from abuse and bias, where people with disabilities live in a supportive physical environment. In this world, society values all its members; and individuals with disabilities are free of any internal barriers barring them from reaching their fullest potential." Barrier Free Living has an emergency shelter, a non residential domestic violence program and programs to help secure housing for the homeless. You can contact them for more information.
Its important to remember that every person's situation is special to their needs, desires and personal circumstances. This is why WomensLaw.org has an Email Hotline, to provide individual personalized help. Please email us at any time if you have legal questions or just need support.
Written by Angelica Sgouros, edited by Nina Gilbert