22 Jul 2021

Forty percent of disabled women experience family violence, research shows

6:26 am on 22 July 2021

New research shows disabled people are twice as likely to experience violence than the able-bodied, and for women that abuse is likely to occur at home.

Man putting up hands to hide face (almost obscured in background)

File photo. Photo: 123rf

The authors of the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, include University of Auckland researchers.

Associate professor Janet Fanslow said it was the first research in New Zealand recording different types of violence experienced by people with physical, intellectual and psychological disabilities.

"The disability sector has been asking for further evidence of what they suspected, which is that people with disabilities are at increased risk of experiencing violence compared to other sections of the population."

The research found 40 percent of disabled women experience violence from their partner, compared with 25 percent of non-disabled women.

And disabled men were more likely to experience violence by strangers.

"All of it was concerning. In terms of surprising, the disability sector has been signalling for a while that they suspected this was the case. This survey is really important because it quantifies some of the magnitude of the increased risk that the disabled community is facing," Fanslow said.

"These are groups that need more wraparound support, they need more specialised prevention services, and the response systems that we have in place need to be resourced so that they can adequately cater to people with different needs."

The data came from the 2019 New Zealand Family Violence Study, which interviewed almost 3000 people.

It follows the Ministry of Justice's New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey, released in June, which found people with disabilities were significantly more likely to experience crime than those without disabilities.

The Human Rights Commission's Paula Tesoriero said she hopes the new findings galvanises change.

"This research is really important to growing our understanding and our body of knowledge in this area," she said.

"It's really concerning to see confirmation that the rates of violence are much higher for disabled people than for non disabled people."

She said the results of the research mirrored what she was hearing from those helping disabled people.

"We know our prevention practice and our services are not as responsive in New Zealand to disabled people as they could be and we simply cannot ignore what this information shows us."

Tesoriero said she would like to see the needs of disabled people represented in the Joint Venture for Family Violence and Sexual Violence.

An advocate for people with disabilities, Erika Butters of the Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Trust, said the sector needs more crisis response services.

"Nobody has necessarily been looking at or responding to the experience of violence and the concerns that disabled people have had for a long time because mainstream options have not been so responsive."

She said the trust helps about 50 disabled people a month through their new crisis response service.

"As that knowledge [about our service] is becoming more widespread, we're receiving many more referrals and we're stretching our capacity constantly."

Key results included:

  • Women with any disability reported significantly higher rates of sexual intimate partner violence (17 percent) compared with disabled men (5 percent).
  • Having one disability increased the risk of experiencing violence; multiple disabilities didn't increase this risk further.
  • Disabled men were more likely to experience physical violence by non-partners (56 percent), compared with 38 percent of non-disabled men.
  • 34 percent of men with disabilities experienced five or more episodes of non-partner physical violence compared with 14 percent of non-disabled.
  • Men were the main perpetrators of non-partner violence against both men and women.

Where to get help:

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

The National Network of Family Violence Services NZ has information on specialist family violence agencies.

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