Twenty-five of the 31 women with disabilities we interviewed in the first part of this study told us about 55 separate experiences of abuse. In many cases, these experiences strongly affected the way the women felt about themselves and their ability to engage in satisfying romantic relationships. Although most incidents of abuse were similar to those women in general experience, such as verbally abusive parents or partners, battering, and rape, some types of abuse were specifically disability related, such as withholding needed orthotic equipment (wheelchairs, braces), medications, transportation, or essential assistance with personal tasks, such as dressing or getting out of bed. Some factors that increase the vulnerability to abuse among women with disabilities are their physical difficulty in escaping dangerous or abusive situations, a need for assistance with personal tasks from the perpetrator, their higher rate of exposure to institutional facilities (including hospitals), and the stereotype that they are dependent, passive, and easy prey.
The national survey showed, however, that overall, women with disabilities appear to be at risk for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse to the same extent as women without disabilities. The prevalence of any abuse (including emotional, physical or sexual abuse) for women with and without disabilities was 62 percent for both. About the same proportion of women with disabilities compared to women without disabilities reported emotional abuse (52 percent versus 48 percent), physical abuse (36 percent for both), or sexual abuse (40 percent vs. 37 percent). When the categories of physical and sexual abuse were combined, 52 percent of women with disabilities and 51 percent of women without disabilities responded positively. None of these types of abuse was significantly different for women with or without disabilities.
In the survey, husbands and live-in partners were included in the same category. More husbands abused women (both with and without disabilities) emotionally (26 percent) and physically (17 percent and 19 percent) than other perpetrators. Parents were the next most common perpetrators of emotional and physical abuse for both groups of women. Strangers were the most often cited perpetrators of sexual abuse for both groups (11 percent for women with disabilities and 12 percent for women without disabilities).
Women with disabilities were significantly more likely to experience emotional abuse by attendants, strangers, or health care providers than women without disabilities. There was a trend for more women with disabilities to experience emotional abuse by mothers, brothers, and other family members, as well. Two percent of women with disabilities were physically or sexually abused by attendants. There was a trend for women with disabilities to be more likely to experience sexual abuse by health care providers.
Women who had experienced abuse that lasted longer than a single incident were examined to determine differences in the duration of abuse. Women with disabilities experienced all types of abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual) for significantly longer periods of time than women without disabilities.