6 – Women with disabilities


Disabled women and hate crime

The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women has recently recognised that ‘violence against women remains a pervasive challenge throughout the United Kingdom’ and expressed her concern about ‘how the current austerity measures are having a disproportionate impact, not only in the specific provision of violence against women services, but more generally, on other cross-cutting areas affecting women, such as poverty and unemployment, which are contributory factors to violence against women and girls’. She further recognises that:

‘… women from black and minority ethnic communities, women belonging to the LGBTI community, and women with disabilities, are further affected by these cutbacks. These women are, for many reasons, often linked to entrenched discriminatory practices in the political, social and economic spheres, and are more likely to depend on benefits and on support from an increasingly under-resourced non-profit sector. Unfortunately, it is precisely the specialized services catering for these women, which are being mostly affected, even more so than the mainstream violence against women and girls services, in many instances.’[1]

Research shows that disabled women are two[2], three[3] or four times[4] more likely to experience serious sexual assault than either disabled men[5] or non-disabled women, but it may be as high as ten times the risk[6]. The victim prevalence of rape is reported as being significantly higher for disabled women than non-disabled women[7]. Although the specific figures are not released by the State, a report by the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate examined 151 cases of rape and found that mental health and learning difficulties were ‘frequently identified’ [8] and rapes in psychiatric institutions were found by the National Patient Safety Agency, but agencies have not been clear about action taken to protect disabled women from rape.[9] Disabled women are particularly vulnerable because an abusive partner may be providing ‘care’.[10] Despite this disproportionate impact of violence, neglect and abuse against disabled women and girls, there is only one passing and inadequate mention of violence against disabled women and girls in the State Action Plan.[11] Mainstream services do not serve disabled women[12] and disabled women cannot easily access support or escape violence[13].

Health inequalities for disabled women

Healthcare providers can question disabled women’s right to have children even suggesting abortion or sterilisation, particularly if the disabled woman is said to have any degree of learning difficulties.[14] The effects of sexuality-based discrimination on the sexual and reproductive health of disabled LBT women are of equal significance.[15]

Disabled women – disproportionate impact of austerity cuts

Since 2010 the Government introduced cuts to welfare benefits and Local Authority (LAs) budgets. Disabled women are likely to receive a double impact from these cuts. There have been cuts to benefits for pregnant women and families with new babies, freezing of child benefit, cuts to childcare tax credit.[16] At the same time disabled women will be subject to the changes from DLA to PIP and other cuts to welfare benefits (as outlined under Article 28 below). Seventy five percent of disabled women were already living in poverty in 2010; with the impact of the current benefit cuts, the levels of poverty are likely to increase.

Due to cuts in funding for the public sector, many jobs have been cut and pay freezes are in place, which are likely to have a greater impact on disabled women as research conducted in 2004 showed that the numbers of disabled women employed in the public sector increased by 101,000 or 24%, compared with an increase of 28,000/11% of disabled men.[17] This reflects the general increase in the employment of women in the public sector which rose at three times the rate of men in the period 2001-2011. The Home Secretary, Theresa May warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer that cuts imposed in the Emergency Budget in 2010 may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010[18] due to the adverse effects of the cuts on women and disabled people, amongst other groups.[19]


[1] See Press Release on the Special Rapporteur’s country mission to the United Kingdom at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14514&LangID=E

[2] Smith, D.L. (2008) Disability, Gender and Intimate Partner Violence: Relationships from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Sexuality and Disability 26(1), pp.15-28.

[3] European Parliament (2007), Committee on Women’s rights and gender equality, Report on the Situation of Women with Disabilities in the European Union (2006/2277/(INI)). Finney A (2006) Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: findings from the 2004/05 British Crime Survey. Home Office Report 12/06.

[4] Casteel, C., Martin, S.L., Smith, J.B. (2008) National Study of Physical and Sexual Assault Among Women with Disabilities. Injury Prevention 14, pp.87-90.

[5] EHRC (2012) Individual, family and social life. Briefing Paper No. 2. Measurement Framework Series.

[6] Viermö, V. (2004) Violence Against Disabled Women. In Kristiansen, K., Traustadóttir, R. (Eds.) Gender and Disability Research in the Nordic Countries. Lund: Student Litteratur. Ch.14, pp.327-346.

[7] Office of National Statistics (2013) Crime in England and Wales, Year Ending March 2013: Statistical Bulletin. London: HMSO [online]. Available from: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_318761.pdf

[8] http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/cjji/inspections/joint-inspection-into-the-investigation-and-prosecution-of-cases-involving-allegations-of-rape/#.U4hi75SwKzA

[9] National Patient Safety Agency (2007) Patient Safety Incident Reports in the NHS. National Reporting and Learning System Data Summary 7. London: The Stationery Office.

[10] http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Appendix-36_General-Recommendation-18_Disabled-women_FINAL2.pdf

[11] Home Office (2011) Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls: Action Plan.http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/crime/call-end-violence-women-girls/vawg-action-plan?view=Binary

[12] Robinson, A., Hudson, K. (2011) Different Yet Complementary: Two Approaches to Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence in the UK. Criminology and Criminal Justice 11(5), pp.515-533.

[13] Hague et al., (2008) Making the Links: Disabled women and domestic violence. http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-articles.asp?itemid=1722&itemTitle=Making+the+links%3A+disabled+women+and+domestic+violence&section=00010001002200080001&sectionTitle=Articles%3A+disabled+women

[14] Howard, R. and Handy, S. (2004) ‘The Sterilisation of Women with Learning Disabilities – Some

Points for Consideration’, British Journal of Developmental Disabilities, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 133 –

  1. http://www.bjdd.org/new/pdf99/99,133-141.pdf


Bailey, R. (1996) ‘Prenatal Testing and the prevention of Impairment: A Woman’s Right to

Choose?’, in Morris, J. (ed.) Encounters with Strangers: Feminism and Disability. The Women’s

Press: London



[15] Women’s Resource Centre (2010) In All Our Colours: Lesbian, bisexual and trans women’s

services in the UK. WRC: London



[16] http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/chrp/publications/unravelling_equality_full.pdf

[17] http://disability-studies.leeds.ac.uk/files/library/Thornton-Employment-Public-sector-full-report.pdf

[18] http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2008-09/equality.html

[19] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/aug/03/budget-cuts-equality-theresa-may



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