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The Intersection of Abuse and Disability

March is Disability Awareness Month


In March there are a variety of disability awareness months both in the US and globally, including developmental disabilities awareness month, cerebral palsy awareness month, multiple sclerosis awareness month, brain injuries awareness month, endometriosis awareness month, and more. March is a month to raise awareness and to promote inclusivity, understanding, and independence. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults in the US have some type of disability. Disabilities are extremely prevalent, but are also not often discussed. That is why it is so important to take opportunities like Disability Awareness Month to not only share information, but also to start conversations surrounding disabilities in your communities.


Oftentimes violence against people with disabilities is not recognized as a significant problem, and the needs of victims and survivors are often ignored. This is part of why people with disabilities are uniquely vulnerable to all forms of violence, including domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

There are many ways that abuse and disability intersect. One way is that abuse can actually cause temporary or permanent disability. According to the Equal Rights Center, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the US. Disability can be a long term impact of domestic violence. In addition to that intersection, people who have a disability are also more likely to be abused. According to the Department of Justice, people with disabilities experience violent crime at twice the rate of people without disabilities and people with disabilities are three times as likely to be sexually assaulted as their peers without disabilities. While these statistics are heart-breaking, they are the reality for people with disabilities.


Survivors with disabilities can face additional types of abuse

  • Have their medications intentionally withheld or overdosed

  • Experience financial abuse and extortion

  • Receive threats of abandonment

  • Experience inappropriate sexual touching during baths, and dressing

  • Have access to adaptive equipment restricted or taken away

  • Have communication or mobility devices taken away

  • Have their service animals threatened or harmed

  • Have caretakers intentionally ignore personal care and hygiene

  • Experience denial of access to disability-related resources in the community and/or to health care appointments

  • Experience invalidating or minimizing a disability with claims that they’re “faking it”

  • Have their disability used in an effort to shame or humiliate them

  • Being told that they “aren’t allowed” to have a pain flare up

  • Having their Social Security Disability checks stolen or withheld

In addition to the increased tactics an abuser might use to control a victim with a disability, people with disabilities also face greater barriers when they seek help. Survivors have barriers to seeking support from outside sources, including isolation, lack of communication devices and interpretation, lack of transportation, lack of privacy, community spaces that are architecturally inaccessible, and societal attitudes about disability. If the abuser is their caregiver, survivors with disabilities face an additional fear of losing their support system when seeking help.


The intersection of disability and abuse is rarely discussed. Raising awareness will begin to decrease some of the barriers that survivors with disabilities face while trying to seek help. Read on to learn more!


Resources for Supporting People with Disabilities Experiencing Abuse


There are many important resources to help people with disabilities who are experiencing abuse. We have included a few below and hope you will share these in your communities.


The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD®) serves as a bridge between the criminal justice and disability communities. NCCJD pursues and promotes safety, fairness, and justice for people with IDD, especially those with hidden disabilities and marginalized identities, as victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and incarcerated persons.


The Adult Protective Services map is designed to provide easy access to information on reporting suspected abuse nationwide. You can use this site to find state and local resources.


The Advocate Guide: Safety Planning for Persons with Disabilities covers the core beliefs and values for helping survivors with disabilities plan for safety, tips on how and when to use a safety plan for a variety of situations experienced by a survivor, and, a safety plan template.

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