October 27, 2008 / 4:34 PM / 11 years ago

Women with disabilities at risk for partner abuse

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study shows that women with a disability are far more likely to experience a physical assault by a spouse or other intimate partner than those without a disability.

Intimate partner violence is “an understudied issue in much need of attention,” Dr. Brian Armor, who led the study, told Reuters Health. “We need to ensure that prevention initiatives designed to reduce intimate partner violence explicitly include the needs of adults with disabilities (e.g. ensuring shelters are accessible).

To estimate disability prevalence and differences in intimate partner abuse among women with and without a disability, Armor and his colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, analyzed data from the CDC’s 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System — a large annual telephone survey of Americans designed to monitor the prevalence of key health behaviors.

They found that women with a disability were significantly more likely than women without a disability to report experiencing some from of intimate partner violence in their lifetime (37.3 percent versus 20.6 percent).

Women with a disability were more likely to report ever being threatened with violence (28.5 percent vs 15.4 percent) and hit, slapped, pushed, kicked or physically hurt (30.6 percent vs. 15.7 percent) by an intimate partner.

Women with a disability were also much more apt to report a history of unwanted sex by an intimate partner (19.7 percent vs 8.2 percent).

“Future work is needed to get at why” this is so, said Armor, who reported the findings today at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in San Diego.

“Perhaps, women with disabilities are vulnerable to intimate partner violence because their disability might limit mobility and prevent escape; shelters might not be available or accessible to women with disabilities; the disability might adversely affect communication and thus the ability to alert others or the perpetrator might control or restrict the victim’s ability to alert others to the problem.”

Fear is another possibility, Armor said. “That is, a catch-22, stemming from reliance on the perpetrator for caregiving needs that might go unmet or lead to some form of undesirable placement if they tell authorities.”

He concluded, “Since intimate partner violence is a public help problem, we need to ensure that prevention strategies for people with disabilities are widely adopted.”

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