Disabled Voices Heard at European Parliament Hearing

Photo of Holly, guide dog Isla, Ashley, Bekki, and Alice. Stood in front of pink "EUROPE NEEDS FEMINISM" sign.

Content warning: This blog discusses domestic and sexual violence experienced by disabled people.

On January 31st, Disabled Survivors Unite spoke at the European Parliament about domestic violence experienced by disabled people. The event brought disability organisations, MEP’s and disabled people together to speak about the issues we face and what we can do to combat them.

Soraya Post, MEP and member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats organised the hearing. She said that domestic violence affected all people with disabilities and had gone “under the radar of lawmakers for too long.”

DSU spoke about our own personal experiences as well as sharing testimonies submitted to us by disabled survivors of abuse. Disabled people are prevented from coming forward when they experience abuse for multiple reasons. Some do not know that what they are experiencing is abuse, and others face structural barriers when trying to access services. As a result, we called for the UK government to reverse the cuts made to support services and disabled people directly. These have a significant impact on all disabled people, but especially survivors of abuse and violence.

Our testimonies were disturbingly echoed by others at the hearing. Ann Jönsson, who sits on the board of the European Blind Union, spoke about a deaf lady who was prevented from communicating by her husband who refused to interpret for her. She also shared the story of a blind teenager who was raped by a man pretending to be the taxi driver designated to pick her up from school. It was clear that disabled people across Europe are experiencing domestic and sexual violence, and not enough is being done to tackle it.

We hope that this hearing has sent a clear message to governments that they must do more to support disabled survivors of abuse and violence. It is imperative that they take this responsibility seriously, and we suggest three key changes they must make in order to do this.

You can download the transcription here.

#ITSNOTOK Call for Submissions

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2017. 6TH - 12TH FEBRUARY

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week is fast approaching, and we want to hear from you!

From 6th – 12th of February we will be giving you the opportunity to have your voice heard.

We are looking for disabled people who have survived sexual abuse/violence to create blog posts for us. This will help people to understand how we experience this type of abuse and what needs to change.

There is no right or wrong way to share your story or feelings, but we thought we’d give you a few ideas;

  • Write a letter to someone
  • Share a piece of art you have created or a photograph you have took
  • Tell your story
  • Share information that you think people need to know about disability and sexual abuse/violence
  • Write a poem
  • Offer advice

If you would like our help to create a blog post, please get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to assist you!

You can send all submission by email: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Or you can send written submissions anonymously using this form.

If you get in touch with us by email, you can still choose to remain anonymous and do not have to give us your name.

We hope you will consider helping us in our campaign to have disabled survivors voices heard!

Disabled Women’s Dark Reality

Guest post by Dr Kirsty Liddiard, Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield and Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, Professor of Critical Disability Studies & Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University

Content note: this post includes descriptions of abuse and sexual violence experienced by disabled women.

According to the World Health Organisation, disabled people are 1.5 times more likely to experience violence and 4 times more likely if the person has a mental health condition. Markedly, disabled women experience sexual violence in greater numbers than both disabled men and non-disabled women.

Violence and its causes have social, cultural and economic underpinnings. By this, we mean that our likelihood as individuals of experiencing violence is rooted in society’s unequal power relations. Violence doesn’t take place in a vacuum, but is steeped in inequity.

When it comes to intimate partner violence – also known as domestic violence – disabled women (we include women with mental illness in this category) suffer in myriad ways. For many disabled women, intimate partner violence goes unnoticed because they are assumed to not be in intimate, sexual and loving relationships at all.

Additionally, the types of harm to which disabled women are subjected can be unrecognisable when we think of ‘domestic violence’ in its traditional sense: a denial of care; withholding medication and food; encouraging self-harm; and exploiting and exacerbating incidences of psychosis, mania and depression are forms of violence unique to mental and physical impairment and illness.

Even when seeking justice, disabled women face barriers. Women who experience mental distress are seldom supported in ways they need to report violence and give evidence in court. Quite often, women’s testimonies are doubted or disbelieved because of their mental health diagnosis. This is even more likely if women are institutionalised, detained (for example, under a mental health section) or are deemed to lack capacity.

While we – as authors whose lives intersect with disability in various ways – don’t want to emphasise disabled women as inherently vulnerable or as victims, it is important to recognise that disabled people experience less privacy in their lives, have increased reliance on others, services and institutions for care, and experience increased access to their bodies by non-disabled people – all of which increase chances of experiencing abuse, violence and exploitation. We think it is important that we highlight this in our communities – particularly during these very difficult times of austerity where cuts to services and a rolling back of the welfare state mean many disabled people are living in more vulnerable circumstances.

Importantly, disabled women also experience an overwhelming lack of access and support in leaving situations of violence – often because the majority of women’s services and refuges don’t cater to their needs. This is despite the fact that disabled women, in comparison to non-disabled women, are more likely to experience sexual and physical violence in their lifetime by people close to them (parents, intimate partners and carers).

Commonly, mainstream domestic abuse organisations seldom consider disabled women within their remit, and services and refuges themselves can be inaccessible in a range of ways. The pragmatics of disability and care are pertinent here: the ability to leave a situation of violence, or move out of the family home (often quickly, quietly and without raising unwanted attention), can be far more difficult if the support of another person is needed, or if your home has been specifically adapted to meet your needs.

The stories of disabled survivors of domestic violence have highlighted a reluctance to leave care packages that have been fought long and hard for, and that care provision is currently not flexible enough to move with women in ways that would protect them. Again, these worries run deeper at a time of significant governmental and local authority cuts to existing care provision.

It is important that disabled women’s stories are heard and that they are given a voice. While talking about violence and hearing such stories is difficult, listening to women – all women – is one critical step we can all take towards keeping women (and others) safe.

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.

If you would like to share your story with us, you can anonymously submit by clicking here.

Please note that a longer version of this article was originally published by Disability Now.

The First (Re)Storyteller

Content note: this post discusses childhood sexual abuse by a family member, failings by parents and police, and lack of justice.


I was routinely sexually abused by my grandfather from the age of eleven. My school called the police when I disclosed at 15 and I underwent an interview, after which my parents were told that I had simply misunderstood his actions due to my Autism and the case was dropped. He went on to abuse a number of other people in the next five years, but the abuse I was subjected to was never brought up again even though he was prosecuted for the other (less serious as far as the law goes) incidents, and he died without ever facing consequences for his abuse of me.


If you have been affected by the content of this post, the following services are here to support you:

  • Victim Support can give you free, confidential support if you have experienced child abuse at any point in your life. You do not need to have reported the abuse to be supported by them.
  • The NSPCC has lots of information on their website, including how to spot the signs of abuse and what you can do if you suspect a child is in danger.

We have a comprehensive list of support services that work with survivors of all kinds of abuse and violence. Click here to view the complete list.

Please also don’t hesitate to email us.[subscribe2]

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women: A Disabled Perspective

Red circle logo. Around the circle text says "stop violence day". In the circle text says "November 25, STOP violence against women". Handprint replaces the o in stop.

Content note: this post includes descriptions of abuse and sexual violence experienced by disabled women.

Last year Public Health England published a report which found that disabled people are twice as likely to experience abuse and sexual violence compared to non-disabled people. And disabled women were identified as being at the highest risk.

They also reported that the abuse disabled people experience is likely to be more severe, frequent, and last for longer periods of time. Yet, across the country, support services for survivors are simply not accessible to disabled people. This is why we exist.

Many services understanding of disability access is narrow, with some believing it simply equates to their building being accessible to wheelchair users. While this is very important, we train them to have a much broader interpretation of access needs and reasonable adjustments.

Our work goes beyond accessibility. We want all services to understand that in order to be truly inclusive, they must recognise that the forms of abuse against disabled people cannot be likened to the experiences of non-disabled survivors. In fact, the abuse we suffer is often unrecognisable when the two are compared.

Many disabled women are abused by partners who also care for them. This gives the abuser the power to withhold food, medication, and personal care. Perpetrators are also able to limit a disabled person’s independence by exacerbating their conditions. One woman told us that her abuser induced seizures that physically harmed her, another explained her wheelchair was damaged by an abusive partner to prevent her from leaving the house.

Disabled people also experience institutional abuse. We recently supported a woman called Jade* whose social worker refused to change her care provider when she explained her personal assistant was being abusive. Jade was told if she cancelled her care package altogether she would not be allowed to leave the house alone and if she did it would result in her being raped. Her social worker knew prior to saying this that Jade was raped as a child.

Disabled women are also less likely to be believed when they speak out about being abused. This is because we are completely desexualised, we are seen to be undesirable and passive. This leads people to believe we cannot be victims of sexual violence and, as a result, we are often disbelieved more frequently. One woman we met was told: “Things like this don’t happen to people like you.”

The dynamic of our abuse is completely unique to disabled people and a big part of our work is to raise awareness of this. It is imperative that all services and organisation which work with survivors recognise this in order to best support disabled people.

On this day, and everyday, we stand alongside our disabled sisters who have experienced abuse. We believe you. We are here to listen. And together, we will create change.

If you would like to share your story with us, please visit our (re)Storytellers page.

If you need support, please visit our support page.

*Please note that small details of the stories in this post have been altered to protect people’s identities, including names; however the abuse experienced has not been changed.