It’s not okay to Overlook Violence, Abuse and Exploitation of Disabled Children and Adults

We’re very pleased to share a guest blog by Parmi Dheensa, CEO of Include me Too. She has kindly written this in response to DSU participating in this years Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.


Include us too as ‘it’s not okay’ is the key message of Disabled Survivors Unite activist organization who highlighted key issues of sexual abuse and violence experienced by disabled girls and women during Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

The campaign amplified the voices of disabled survivors for more awareness, support, intervention and prevention. It echoed the sentiments of ‘UK Says No More’ campaign and in addition the urgency of confronting the impact of consistent failures of stopping the increasing scale of violence and abuse of disabled victims.

There have been several research projects carried out internationally and here in the UK with similar findings regarding disabled women’s experiences.

15% of any population worldwide are people with disabilities of which half are women and girls. Disabled women have experienced violence two to three times more often than women in the average population. But disabled women also experience severe barriers in accessing support, information and services after violence.

Violence and abuse against disabled girls and women is present in many forms and the lack of specialist support, resources and prevention is disconcerting. Many of the issues I will be highlighting here are known to those already advocating in this area however it is imperative we share this information widely to end a culture of denial within our society and gain support and realisation that ‘Its Not Okay’.

A recent EU funded project in four countries including the UK highlighted:

  • Many disabled women were attacked in institutions, by carers, or at home by partners or male relatives.
  • Perpetrators isolated them, threated them, took away equipment or over-medicated them, to stop them from speaking out, or escaping.
  • Forms of violence and abuse experienced included psychological violence, impairment-specific violence, physical violence, forced sterilisation, forced marriages, sexual violence, abuse in institutional settings including disregard and violation of privacy and neglect.

All disabled or deaf women who took part in the survey interviews wanted a society in which ‘being disabled and being a woman’ did not mean having inaccessible services and being less valued, but where their safety mattered and their future life chances are supported in a violence-free life for all women in the future. 

In the UK the following statistics also amplify why not addressing these issues and stopping violence and abuse ‘Is Not Okay’:

  • Disabled children and young people compared to their non- disabled peers are  three to four times more likely to be abused and neglected, according to the NSPCC.
  • Gangs of boys who don’t have a disability are grooming girls who do according to Respond.
  • Disabled women are twice more likely to be assaulted or raped as non-disabled women. The perpetrator is more likely to be someone they know or trust, a family member, carer or partner, according to research by Women’s Aid regarding domestic abuse.
  • Men (5.2%) with a long-term illness or disability were victims of partner abuse in 2013/14 compared to women (11.1%) in the same situation, according to Mankind Initiative.

Another survey looking into domestic abuse highlighted the dependency, lack of control and barriers to break the circle or seek help experienced by disabled women, sadly echoed the many stories of women and families I have listened to and supported even those nearly 20 years ago when managing mental health and women support services.

In this survey the majority of abusers were partners and ex partners 53% of the women who took part in the survey stated their dependency on abusers as carers, sympathy for partners, a panic of lack of support if they left, lack of alternative accessible housing and fear of losing their children all contributed to their inability to leave the situation resulting in women enduring abuse over long periods of time.

Physical neglect was a common theme with women commenting that personal care i.e. bathing, assistance to the toilet, eating etc were regularly withdrawn.

Women stated: “We are sometimes dependant on abusers as carers. How are you supposed to get anyone to believe you if everybody thinks he is a “Saint” because of how he helps you” “I sat dirty for days…he said I was demanding, disgusting and ungrateful. I said sorry loads of times but he ignored me…”

This ‘Is Not Okay’.

A way forward…

Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 – 2020 acknowledges government’s duties and responsibilities within the Equality Act 2010 and victims’ legislation, this strategy also needs to refer to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

A commitment to strengthen the involvement in the implementation of the strategy and voices of disabled women and girls including autistic women and girls is required. The strategy refers to peer support network, national helplines, awareness raising in schools and amongst the public and accommodation based services for example. However there is no real emphasise of the specialist provision required to ensure accessible, inclusive, appropriate responsive services and support for disabled women and girls. Allocation of resources to support a disabled women and girls peer support network, specialist helpline, specialist/inclusive accommodation based services these areas could be a good start to thread through the strategy and strengthen the implementation for effective change in ending violence against disabled women and girls.

Disabled Survivors Unite are uniting with Include Me TOO to campaign and raise awareness of ending violence and abuse against disabled persons including harmful practices. Include Me TOO look forward to supporting Disabled Survivors Unite through strengthening diversity, equality, and safeguarding within a cultural framework approach  addressing harmful practices which include forced marriages, grooming, exploitation, witchcraft accusations, FGM awareness and intervention to end violence and abuse against disabled persons.

We all have a responsibility to build a safe and inclusive society for all that can be Okay.