In order to tackle this issue of gender-based violence against people with disability, it is essential that both preventative measures as well as responses are taken into consideration.
The impact of gender-based violence (GBV) on people with disability is a topic often neglected in the discussion surrounding the global issue of violence against women. According to the United Nations, GBV disproportionately affects women, girls, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, many people overlook the fact that people with disabilities also experience an increased risk of abuse and violence. In fact, statistics show that people with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be victims of GBV than those without a disability.
Studies have shown that people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in intimate relationships due to their dependence upon another person for day-to-day activities which can be used as levers for emotional blackmail or control by abusive partners. Additionally, some people with disability may not feel able to report instances of violence due to feelings of shame or fear that no one will believe them because of their disability status.
Gender-based violence against people with disability can take many forms, including physical, psychological, economic, and sexual abuse. People with disability are particularly vulnerable to GBV due to their social marginalization, lack of access to resources and services that could help them cope with such abuse and discrimination, as well as fear of not being believed or taken seriously when they report such incidents. There are also numerous cultural stigmas associated with disability which can create an environment where such abuse is normalized or even overlooked by authorities. This lack of awareness makes it difficult for survivors to get help or justice when they have been victims of GBV.
Additionally, people with disabilities often face unique barriers in terms of exercising their rights to justice and access to support services. For instance, they may be unable to access legal aid services due to communication barriers or dependence on others who are violent towards them; may struggle to make complaints due to financial or mobility restrictions; or may be discouraged from seeking help because they do not trust support services based on prior experiences. This makes it difficult for survivors of GBV – particularly those with disabilities – to seek help and ultimately increases the likelihood that perpetrators will go unpunished.
The consequences of GBV for people with disability are far-reaching and devastating. Studies have shown that experiencing GBV can lead to poorer mental health outcomes such as depression and anxiety, lower self-esteem and decreased trust in relationships; poorer physical health outcomes due to increased risk of injuries sustained during an attack; reduced employment prospects leading to financial insecurity; disruption in education causing long-term educational underachievement; isolation from family members which further restricts access to support networks; and poor reproductive health outcomes due to factors such as limited access to contraception or prevention options. Research has also indicated an increase in suicidal ideation among those impacted by GBV when coupled with physical disability.
In order to tackle this issue, it is essential that both preventative measures as well as responses are taken into consideration. Preventative measures should include raising awareness about GBV amongst people with disability through:
- Grassroots campaigns highlighting available support services
- Improving accessibility for people with diverse impairments so they can better navigate reporting processes without fear or judgment
- Increasing representation by those affected by GVB within policy-making spaces so their voices are heard when decisions are made about protecting them from harm
Response initiatives should involve providing holistic forms of assistance for survivors including counseling services tailored for specific impairments such as hearing difficulties or mobility constraints, working directly with families so they understand how best to protect someone from becoming a victim again, as well as providing financial security through benefits and income protection schemes.
Addressing gender-based violence against people with disabilities is complex, but it is possible if various stakeholders including governments, NGOs, CSOs, and communities increase work together to identify effective solutions that recognize the particular needs of this population group.
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