Cases of domestic abuse have sadly risen over the last year, with several lockdowns causing many victims to be trapped at home with their abusers. For disabled victims, it’s likely that lockdown has brought extra challenges, especially if victims have had to shield themselves because they’re medically vulnerable.
As our contact with friends and family was reduced or outright stopped, victims have been left with no one to confide in, and the lack of face-to-face contact has meant that any noticeable signs of abuse could have been missed.
According to Women’s Aid, disabled women are three times more likely to experience domestic abuse and more likely to experience other forms of abuse in their lifetime, compared to non-disabled women.
The statistics are also higher for children, with UNICEF reporting that disabled children are more likely to experience sexual violence compared to non-disabled children.
Why are Disabled People more at Risk of Abuse?
There are a few reasons why a disabled person may end up more at risk of being abused. If they have a physical disability, this can make it harder for them to defend themselves. A person with a learning difficulty on the other hand might not understand that they’re being abused or know how to express themselves if they are.
Some people with disabilities may also have a smaller network of friends and family, which can be due to exclusion or stigma discrimination. This can unfortunately mean that they’ve often got less people to turn to and get support from if they’re being abused.
For those who need professional care and support, from a personal care assistant for example, this can place them at further risk of abuse if the carer takes advantage of their position of power, knowing that the disabled person is reliant on them.
Examples of Abuse
Abuse can take many different forms and can be perpetrated by anyone in the disabled person’s life. It might be a family member or partner, or it could be someone in a position of trust and power, such as a teacher or caregiver.
Abuse can be:
- Physical e.g. slapping, kicking, hitting or restraining someone
- Emotional e.g. threatening, intimidating, insulting or manipulating someone
- Sexual e.g. non-consensual touching, sexual assault, rape or inappropriate sexual conversation
- Financial e.g. accessing and using someone else’s financial accounts or manipulating them to give you money
- Neglect e.g. failing to take care of a disabled person’s emotional, physical or social needs
Recognising the Signs of Abuse
It’s really upsetting to think about a friend or family member being abused, and it’s not always easy to recognise the signs, especially if they have a disability that makes it difficult for them to communicate.
A few things to look out for include:
- Unexplained cuts, bruises or burns
- Broken bones
- Changes in behaviour e.g. becoming more withdrawn or irritable
- Poor hygiene
- Sudden weight loss
- Untreated health problems
- Pressure sores
- Appearing fearful of someone e.g. a carer coming round to their house
Every situation will be different but if you’ve got any concerns at all that someone close to you is being abused, you should report your concerns to the police, especially if they’re in a vulnerable state and unable to speak out for themselves.
Support for Abuse
It can be difficult for those living with an abuser to report their abuse and access the support they need. For those with a disability, it can be even more challenging if they’re dependent on their abuser for care or financial support.
If a disabled person has trouble communicating, they might also struggle to get the right support once they do reach out for help. Every individual’s situation is unique, and there’s no one size fits all when it comes to support.
Whether you’re a victim of abuse yourself or you’re worried that someone close to you is being abused and can’t reach out for help themselves, we always recommend going to the police first. If you need help reporting your abuse to the police, our Abuse Solicitors can give you guidance on this.
We can also refer you to specialist support services tailored to your individual needs. Get in touch for confidential legal advice today.
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