Family violence and women with disabilities

Violence against women is identified as a top human rights issue by women with disabilities, a population that is more likely to experience intimate partner violence (IPV) than their counterparts without disabilities. Existing research on violence against among women with disabilities has pointed to the need for population-based sampling, the inclusion of women of non-White descent and the use of literature-based definitions of IPV.

Regarding the latter point, a new study  of mine published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma in 2009 draws on Johnson’s framework for defining IPV to measures the prevalence of any past-year IPV as well as the experience two theoretically defined sub-types of IPV, control tactics (including verbal abuse/control and threats) and physical violence.  Johnson’s definition of IPV (as defined and used in the original study) moved beyond the traditional definition of IPV as involving physical violence to include a wider spectrum of IPV manifestations (Johnson & Leone, 1994).

This study draws on a population-based sample of women primarily of African American and Latina descent both with (N=141) and without disabilities (N=683) living in Chicago, Illinois in 1995. IPV definitions are drawn from the framework presented by Leone, Johnson, Cohan, & Lloyd, 2004.

Although overall rates of IPV did not differ by disability status or timeframe (past year vs. lifetime), women with disabilities were less likely to report a past year experience of IPV in the form of verbal abuse (53.9% vs. 62.8% OR=0.7*) but more likely to report threats (56.3% vs. 33.3%, OR = 1.6*), and/or physical violence (80.0% vs. 45.5%, OR=4.8*).

Using logistic regression to identify risk factors for IPV, no significant differences were noted by disability status, but risk factors included having one+ preschooler (OR=1.6 **), history of child abuse (OR=2.5**) and for past-year IPV, pregnancy (OR=1.9**).

Few differences were noted in help-seeking behaviors, although the sample was more likely to report ever trying to obtain a restraining order (OR=2.40**).

Finally, prevalence of past-year IPV was assessed in the whole population, controlling for disability, in order to determine whether the presence of others in the household or a partner in the room during the interview might create an under-reporting bias.  No differences were noted for women with either anyone in the home or a partner in the room during the interview, while interviewees whose partner was in the home during the interview, but not in the room, were twice as likely to report past-year IPV (75.4% vs. 60.7% OR=1.99***).

Case management implications relate to the need for disability-sensitive IPV assessment training at all state disability offices and the need to facilitate accessibility of traditional IPV systems. Policy implications relate to the need to institutionalize IPV screening among people receiving disability benefits at naturally occurring contact points, such as disability determination reviews.