An Exploratory Study on the Work of Independent Living Centers to Address Abuse of Women with Disabilities

Article excerpt

During the past 20 years, considerable research has been conducted on the problem of domestic violence in the United States. Researchers have studied causes of domestic violence, its effects on victims, and the effectiveness of various types of interventions with perpetrators and victims. However, a review of the literature found very little research on domestic violence against women with disabilities. The needs of women with disabilities are often an afterthought in the development of battered women's programs. Moreover, the needs of women with disabilities who are experiencing abuse are often not addressed by programs serving people with disabilities. This article focuses on the services of independent living centers (ILCs) to women with disabilities who are experiencing abuse.

Review of the Literature

Prevalence of Abuse of Women with Physical Disabilities

In one of the few studies to address violence against women with disabilities, Young, Nosek, Howland, Chanpong, and Rintala (1997) compared 421 women without disabilities to 439 women with physical disabilities. They found that 13% of the women with physical disabilities had experienced physical or sexual abuse during the past year. The most common perpetrator of physical abuse was a husband or live-in partner. These authors found the prevalence of abuse of women with physical disabilities by husbands or live-in partners to be similar to the prevalence of this type of abuse for a comparison sample of women without disabilities. However, women with physical disabilities experienced physical or sexual abuse for a longer duration than women without disabilities (3.9 years vs. 2.5 years, U = 31529.5, p = .02).

Nosek, Walter, Young, and Howland (in press) found that women with disabilities have a significantly larger number of abuse perpetrators (M = 3.15, SD =2.16) than women without disabilities (M = 2.77, SD = 1.93), F (1,531) = 4.522, p = .034.

Schaller and Fieberg (1998) also studied the problem of abuse of women with disabilities. These authors found that the incidence of all types of abuse among women with disabilities cited in various studies ranges from 33% to 83%. According to their commentary, abuse by a spouse or intimate partner may have a negative impact on the woman's self-esteem and may also involve economic and social deprivation. The process of recovery from abuse involved re-establishment of a sense of control and safety.

These studies make it clear that women with disabilities are in need of abuse intervention services to the same extent as women without disabilities. In fact, they tend to have a longer duration of abuse. Moreover, they are subject to particular types of abuse, such as abuse by attendants and health care providers, which are less likely to occur to women without disabilities (Young et al., 1997). In addition, women with physical disabilities may have more difficulty obtaining help to deal with the abuse. They may lack information on domestic abuse services or existing services may be physically inaccessible. A woman with a physical disability may have transportation problems limiting her ability to access help. Her abuser may be the person who provides her personal care, thus she may fear losing her independence if she reports the abuse. Disability-related services are one of the few sources of help accessible to women with disabilities who are experiencing abuse. However, disability service providers may not be trained to address abuse and may lack information on local abuse intervention services (Young, Nosek, Walter, & Howland, 1998).

The Role of Rehabilitation Counselors in Addressing Abuse

Just as the literature on domestic abuse often fails to address the role disability may play in abuse, the literature on disability has done little to address abuse as an important issue for women with disabilities. However, as noted previously, research indicates that women with disabilities experience abuse at approximately the same rates as all women. …

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