Prevalence of Violence Against Women with Disabilities

last updated 4 August 2008

The rate of occurrence of abuse among disabled women globally is difficult to ascertain because specific, worldwide research is severely lacking.  According to an article by Disability World, the only study that has addressed the issue on that scale was a 2007 study conducted by the UN, but it focused on violence against women in general rather than violence against disabled women specifically.  It did, however, note that in Europe, North America and Australia, more than half of women with disabilities have experienced physical abuse, compared with one third of non-disabled women.

Some countries have conducted studies on a national scale that are focused on disabled women.  In Canada, the Disabled Women’s Network (DAWN) of Ontario has been at the forefront of protecting disabled women from violence since 1985.  A series of studies through the 1980s showed that the degree of risk of sexual abuse of women with disabilities appears to be at least 150% of that for women of similar age without disabilities.  Those studies also showed that 40% of the disabled women surveyed had been raped, abused or assaulted; that 53% of women who had been disabled from birth or early childhood had been abused; and that women with multiple disabilities had experienced multiple abuse.  For a more comprehensive analysis of abuse of disabled women in Canada, see Margaret Nosek and Carol Howland’s article “Abuse and Women with Disabilities.”

In the United States, somewhat different results have been found.  Studies conducted by the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) at Baylor College of Medicine showed that the rate of abuse among women with disabilities was not different from the rate among non-disabled women.  The prevalence of any abuse (including emotional, physical or sexual abuse) for women with and without disabilities was 62%.  About the same proportion of women with disabilities compared to women without disabilities reported emotional abuse (52% versus 48%), physical abuse (36% for both), or sexual abuse (40% versus 37%).  When the categories of physical and sexual abuse were combined, 52% of women with disabilities and 51% of women without disabilities reported abuse.  Although none of these types of abuse was significantly different for women with or without disabilities, women with disabilities experienced all types of abuse for significantly longer periods than did women without disabilities.  CROWD also noted that women with disabilities were susceptible to abuse from a larger number of perpetrators, including attendants, strangers, and healthcare providers. 

Other countries have attempted to conduct similar studies, but with a much narrower focus.  For example, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has reported that 90% of women with intellectual disabilities have been sexually abused.  In addition, 68% of women with an intellectual disability will be subjected to sexual abuse before they reach 18.  These studies, however, are limited to sexual abuse and to women with intellectual disabilities. 

India has also noted that women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse.  The UN reported a small survey in Orissa, India that found that virtually all of the women and girls with disabilities were beaten at home, 25% of women with intellectual disabilities had been raped, and 6% of women with disabilities had been forcibly sterilized.

DVV International, a German-based adult education development organization, has republished an article originally available in the Journal for Disability and International Development in which Hissa Al Thani, a UN rapporteur on disability, touches on the abuse of disabled women in the Arabic world.  In it, he noted that the UN’s findings that “over half of women with disabilities have experienced physical abuse, compared to one third of non-disabled women” is true in some Arab countries.  Girls with even mild developmental or intellectual disabilities are often sent into domestic work, where they are subjected to at least verbal abuse, with physical abuse also a possibility.