Interpersonal Violence and Women With Disabilities: A Research Update
This article provides an update on what researchers have learned during the past ten years about abuse and women with disabilities and offers some perspectives on the state of current research and its implications for future studies and advocacy efforts.
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Interpersonal Violence and Women With Disabilities: A Research Update by Laurie E. Powers, Rosemary B. Hughes, and Emily M. Lund with contributions from Mary Wambach (September 2009).
While a relatively young field of inquiry, research on violence against Disabled and Deaf women offers compelling evidence for their greater risk for experiencing physical, sexual, and emotional violence than women without disabilities. In addition to these traditional forms of violence, women with disabilities and Deaf women are at risk for disability-specific forms of violence including medication manipulation; destruction of adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs and communication devices; neglect by people who assist them with activities of daily living such as eating or bathing; and financial abuse. This additional vulnerability means that perpetrators of violence against women with disabilities and Deaf women include not only intimate partners, such as spouses, but also family members, friends, healthcare providers, and paid or unpaid providers of personal assistance. For this reason, the authors propose the broader term 'interpersonal violence' (IPV) be used instead of the more traditional 'intimate partner violence' when researching and discussing violence against women with disabilities.
A small but ever-growing body of literature addresses ways to reduce the risk for and experience of IPV among Disabled and Deaf women. Women living with disability face not only traditional and disability-specific forms of abuse but also unique barriers to leaving and reporting abusive situations, such as mobility and accessibility barriers, fear of losing their independence, and dependence on the perpetrator for assistance with daily life activities. Because research on the prevalence and nature of violence against Disabled women was not initiated until the late 20th century, investigation of the benefits of safety promoting interventions is in its infancy. Research conducted to date or currently underway highlights improvements in Disabled women's abuse awareness and knowledge, safety planning, safety planning self-efficacy, safety skills, safety promoting behaviors, and social networks. Notable gaps exist in the research related to the issues and needs of ethnic or racial minority survivors, and/or survivors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
There are numerous methodological issues that must be considered when conducting research with Disabled and Deaf women. Interpretation of the growing body of research is particularly complex due to the diverse definitions of disability and IPV applied across studies and the different methods used for participant identification and recruitment. Researchers are urged to use literature-based definitions differentiating emotional, physical, sexual, and disability-related abuse; to administer appropriate disability-sensitive measures; and to use universally accessible population-based sampling methodologies. Researchers need to understand that telephone-based surveys and surveys of people who receive disability-related government services may exclude certain of segments of the disability community. In addition to these methodological considerations, the authors stress the importance of involving people with disabilities in all phases of research, from designing studies to disseminating the findings.
The authors call for continuing advancement of legislation and policies; acceleration of efforts to provide responsive and accessible services, and disability-specific violence training for professionals; and attention to the issue of violence against men with disabilities.
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