Family violence prevention for women with disabilities

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Family violence prevention for women with disabilities

The Victorian Government recently announced a funding boost to support the complex needs of women and girls with disabilities who are experiencing – or at risk of – family violence. The $500,000 two-year investment will provide ongoing training to those working in the sector to recognise and appropriately respond to family violence affecting women and girls with disabilities in the community. The announcement follows the release of Victoria’s first Gender Equality Strategy, which has a strong focus on empowering women and girls with disabilities.

The weight of evidence consistently points to women with disabilities being subjected to higher rates of both physical and sexual abuse from both those closest to them and strangers, when compared with other women.[1]  Women with disabilities experience all forms of violence and abuse as other women experience. However, this can extend to disability-specific abuse, such as manipulation of medication, refusal to assist with daily activities and restriction of access to communication devices.  Women with disabilities have considerably fewer pathways to safety and experience complex barriers. 

Tertiary response services are under considerable pressure from the sheer numbers of women requiring services and from limited (and diminishing) funding. A lack of funding and the need to prioritise budget expenditure to support physical access are key barriers to developing fully accessible services.[2] While the expectation is one of ‘universal access’, the reality is that access is limited or non-existent as a result of a process of weighing up the costs and barriers of providing access.

Service accessibility is a pro-active process; requiring service providers to pro-actively engage with women with disabilities in the places that they ‘live, work and play’. It also means pro-actively disseminating accessible information about violence against women and available services. This would involve outreach; which would require resources. As it stands, women with significant communication disabilities including women with hearing impairments, women with mental illness, women who use augmentative communication and women with other communication needs associated with speech and learning barriers continue to experience considerable difficulties in accessing services.[3]

Women with disability are a priority population group in the Third National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. It is imperative that the next Western Australian Government commits resources to ensure the meaningful inclusion and participation of women with disabilities in the services and supports required to ensure their safety.


[1] Plummer, S.-B., & Findley, P. A. (2012). Women with disabilities’ experience with physical and sexual abuse: Review of the literature and implications for the
field. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 13(1), 15-29.

[2] Chang, J., Martin, S., Moracco, K., Dulli, L., Scandlin, D., Loucks-Sorrell, M., & Bou-Saada, I. (2003). Helping women with disabilities and domestic violence: Strategies, limitations and challenges of domestic violence programs and services. Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine, 12(7), 699-708. Healey, L., Humphreys, C., & Howe, K. (2013) Inclusive domestic violence standards: Strategies to improve interventions for women with disabilities? Violence and victims, 28 (1), 50 – 68.

[3] Chang, J., Martin, S., Moracco, K., Dulli, L., Scandlin, D., Loucks-Sorrell, M., & Bou-Saada, I. (2003). Helping women with disabilities and domestic violence: Strategies, limitations and challenges of domestic violence programs and services. Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine, 12(7), 699-708.