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Stop the Abuse: Why We Can’t Neglect Women with Disabilities When We Talk about Interpersonal

ipv women with disabilities
This is the second in a series of blog posts on the issue of violence against women and girls. The blog series is brought to you by the APA Committee on Women in Psychology. Make sure to check out the first post on how violence and trauma are linked to risk of incarceration for women.

The #MeToo movement has elevated the conversation about women and violence. However, there is one population that often gets neglected from that conversation: women with disabilities.

How prevalent is interpersonal violence in women with disabilities?

Women with disabilities have higher rates of experiencing interpersonal violence (e.g., physical violence, rape/sexual violence, stalking, psychological aggression, and control of sexual/reproductive health) than women without disabilities.1 A review article indicated that between 26% and 90% of women with disabilities experience interpersonal violence in their lifetime.2 The abusers are typically male partners.³ Although the prevalence is high, one study found that only 33% of women with disabilities reporting interpersonal violence sought help.3 Why are women with disabilities experiencing interpersonal violence? Intersectionality of being a woman and having a disability places women at dual risk for interpersonal violence.4 People with disabilities are often stereotyped as being incompetent, helpless, dependent, and asexual.5 In addition, women are stereotyped to be physically weaker, vulnerable, and dependent.4 It has also been found that being at a lower socioeconomic status, having two or more health conditions, and having activities limited by pain are risk factors for experiencing interpersonal violence in women with disabilities.6

How can we assess for abuse in women with disabilities? Curry, Powers, and Oschwald (2004) developed an abuse screening tool specifically for women with disabilities.7 This tool can be used by healthcare providers for assessment and/or by women with disabilities for self-assessment.

Abuse Screening Questions for Women with Disabilities7

In the last year, has anyone you know:

  1. Made you feel unsafe?

  2. Yelled at you over and over again or hurt your feelings?

  3. Refused or neglected to help with an important personal need such as using the bathroom, eating, or drinking?

  4. Damaged or kept you from using a phone, wheelchair, cane, walker, or other assistive device?

  5. Refused to give you your medication, kept you from taking it, or given you too much for too little?

  6. Stolen money, valuables, equipment, or medication, forged checks, or used your credit/debit card or information without your permission?

  7. Threatened or actually hit, slapped, kicked, pushed, shoved, handled you roughly, restrained, or otherwise physically hurt you?

How can women with disabilities who experience interpersonal violence seek help?

  1. Abuse Hotline and Shelters:

Women who are being abused can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can help women find shelters/programs that are accessible to individuals with disabilities: 1−800−799−7233.

  1. Self-Defense:

Women with disabilities can also be equipped with self-defense training. There are a number of courses developed for individuals with disabilities (e.g., Self Defense for the Disabled). There is also a YouTube channel that teaches self-defense using karate called “Criptaedo” for individuals with disabilities.

What should we do as a society to reduce the impact of interpersonal violence on women with disabilities?

  1. Establish and advertise prevention programs

  2. Be aware of and watch for signs of abuse of women with disabilities so interventions can be made

  3. Increase the independence of women with disabilities by improving accessibility and making appropriate accommodations

  4. Provide better and more diverse representations of women with disabilities in the media to reduce stereotypes.


1Breiding, M.J., & Armour, B.S. (2015). The association between disability and intimate partner violence in the United States. Annals of Epidemiology, 25(6):455-457. doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2015.03.017 

2 Hughes, R.B., Lund, E.M., Gabrielli, J., Powers, L.E., & Curry, M.A. (2011). Prevalence of interpersonal violence against community-living adults with disabilities: A literature review. Rehabilitation Psychology, 56(4):302-319. doi:10.1037/a0025620

3 Milberger, S., Israel, N., LeRoy, B., Martin, A., Potter, L., Patchak-Schuster, P. (2003). Violence against women with physical disabilities. Violence and Victims, 18(5):581-590. doi:10.1891/vivi.2003.18.5.581

4 Rich, K. (2014). “My body came between us”: Accounts of partner-abused women with physical disabilities. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 29(4):418-433. doi:10.1177/0886109914522626

5 Crawford, D., & Ostrove, J.M. (2003). Representations of disability and the interpersonal relationships of women with disabilities. Women and Therapy, 26(3-4):179-194. doi:10.1300/J015v26n03_01

6 Yoshida, K., DuMont, J., Odette, F., & Lysy, D. (2011). Factors associated with physical and sexual violence among Canadian women living with physical disabilities. Health Care for Women International, 32(8):762-775. doi:10.1080/07399332.2011.555826

7 Curry, M.A., Powers, L.E., & Oschwald, M. (2003). Development of an abuse screening tool for women with disabilities. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 8(4):123-141. doi:10.1300/J146v08n04_06


Lauren Stutts, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Values at Davidson College. She received her BS in psychology from Davidson in 2005 and an MS and PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Florida in 2010. Her specialty area is clinical health/medical psychology with a focus on resiliency, stress, and health. In addition, she is a licensed psychologist in North Carolina and serves as a part-time clinician in the community. Dr. Stutts is a member of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Women in Psychology.

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