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Disability and domestic abuse: Risk, impacts and response

Disabled people make up a significant minority within England: one in five of the population are disabled. Disabled people experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic abuse. They also experience domestic abuse for longer periods of time, and more severe and frequent abuse than non-disabled people. They may also experience domestic abuse in wider contexts and by greater numbers of significant others, including intimate partners, family members, personal care assistants and health care professionals. Disabled people also encounter differing dynamics of domestic abuse, which may include more severe coercion, control or abuse from carers.

Anybody who experiences domestic abuse may face broader risk factors, but disabled people face specific risks. They are often in particularly vulnerable circumstances that may reduce their ability to defend themselves, or to recognise, report and escape abuse. Impairment can create social isolation, which, along with the need for assistance with health and care and the potentional increased situational vulnerabilities, raises the risk of domestic abuse for disabled people. Physical and environment inaccessibility, stigma and discrimination can also exclude and isolate them. Their reliance on care increases the situational vulnerability to other people’s controlling behaviour and can exacerbate difficulties in leaving an abusive situation.

Not only do disabled people experience higher rates of domestic abuse, they also experience more barriers to accessing support, such as health and social care services and domestic abuse services. However, services can address this by closing knowledge gaps, by improving accessibility and identification and by providing more opportunities for disclosure and support. They can do this by training health and social care professionals and staff in domestic abuse services, by improving integration of services and by engaging directly with disabled people.