Interpersonal Violence Against Women with Disabilities


Safety Alert: Your abuser can monitor your use of your computer and the Internet. If you are in danger, please use a safer computer, call 911 or your local hotline, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). For more details, visit our Internet Safety page.


This page provides information on violence against women with disabilities. When we refer to violence here, we are talking about interpersonal violence (IPV) or abuse that is committed by a person who is known to the victim. We will abbreviate interpersonal violence as IPV throughout the page. We refer to the person who commits IPV as the abuser. At times. we use the term abuse when referring to IPV, such as when referring to childhood sexual abuse. The abuser can be an intimate or romantic partner, a personal assistant, family member, a healthcare provider, or another person known to the victim. We refer to a person who is being hurt or abused as a victim, and a person who has survived the abuse as a survivor.

This page includes sections on important topics related to IPV against women with disabilities: safety planning, types of IPV, risks and vulnerabilities, warning signs, of a violent relationship, warning signs of an abusive personal assistant, health consequences, and Internet safety. Each section includes resources for obtaining additional information or support.

Safety Planning

Planning for safety can help everyone – even those who are not necessarily in abusive situations – to be better prepared to keep themselves as safe as possible. To stay as safe as possible, it is important to develop a safety plan. A safety plan is a carefully thought-out plan that people can follow to keep themselves safer in a variety of situations. Safety planning can help women with disabilities who are in abusive situations and relationships to make choices about how to get themselves, their loved ones including their children, and their pets and service animals to a safe place. Safety planning can also help women in abusive relationships and situations prepare for future violence and abusive situations and, therefore, increase their chances for safety. To learn more about safety planning and developing a safety plan, visit our page, Safety Planning.

Types of Interpersonal Violence

Women with disabilities are at risk for experiencing the same forms of IPV as women in general including physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse. Like other women, they may experience threatening behavior, stalking, victim blaming, and economic abuse. Women with disabilities, however, are at risk for abuse that wouldn’t happen if they did not have the presence of disability in their lives. These behaviors that are not typically recognized as abusive include disability-related physical IPV, disability-related sexual IPV, and disability-related emotional abuse. For detailed information on the various forms of IPV, visit our page, Types of Interpersonal Violence.

Warning Signs of a Violent Relationship

People who are either abusive or becoming abusive may show one or more of the warning signs or red flags. Warning signs for all women to heed include extreme jealousy, threats to harm them or their children, and sudden mood changes. In addition, there are other warning signs for women with disabilities to heed such as threats to harm her service animal, stealing her disability checks, and using her disability to shame and humiliate her. For a full list of warning signs for all women and another list specifically for women with disabilities, visit our page, Warning Signs of a Violent Relationship.

Warning Signs of an Abusive Personal Assistant

An effective personal assistant (PA) supports women and other people with disabilities in maintaining their independence, community living, productivity, and overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, not all personal assistants are caring and respectful. Some are abusive. An abusive personal assistant can threaten a disabled woman’s health, safety, and ability to participate in daily life activities. Examples of warning signs of an abusive personal assistant can include refusing to provide references or a criminal background check during the hiring process or telling the woman that no one else will care for her. Visit our page Warning Signs of Abusive Personal Assistant for more examples of how to tell if a personal assistant is abusive or may become abusive.

Health Consequences

Interpersonal violence against women with and without disabilities is considered a major public health problem associated with short- and long-term health consequences, greater healthcare utilization, and even death. Visit our page Health Consequences for more detailed information on the physical and psychological effects of IPV.

Internet Safety

The Internet can be a great place for meeting people, staying in touch with family and friends, obtaining information, and shopping without leaving home. Although using the Internet is not typically dangerous, it is a place where others can find personal information about you and attempt to harm you. When using the Internet, it is important to protect your identity and confidential information. For tips on staying safer online and resources for learning more about this topic, visit our page, Internet Safety.

Vulnerabilities and Risks Factors

Vulnerabilities and risk factors for experiencing IPV are conditions that increase a person’s chances of becoming a victim. IPV is usually related to multiple risk factors. Women with disabilities face the same types of risk for IPV as other women including lower levels of education reducing opportunities for employment, a history of childhood sexual abuse and neglect, financial stress, and other factors commonly known to place women at risk for IPV. Women with disabilities, however, may be at greater risk of IPV because of disability-related factors such as being dependent on her abuser for assistance including with eating and taking medications. To learn about disability-related risk factors for IPV, visit our page, Vulnerabilities and Risk Factors for Interpersonal Violence.

Healing from Abuse and IPV

Have you, or someone you know, survived abuse and violence? If so, it is important to know that it is possible to recover from the negative effects of abuse and IPV. Survivors of abusive experiences have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. They have the right to live a life free from abuse. To read about healing from the effects of abuse, visit the Healing from Abuse and Violence page.