What’s the link between domestic abuse and disability?
Disability, frailty, substance and alcohol dependency and mental health issues all raise the risk that someone will experience domestic abuse.
According to research, disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence as non-disabled women. The abuse they experience is likely to continue for a longer time and their injuries also tend to be more serious. It’s not just disabled women who are at higher risk of domestic violence – disabled men are too.
Why does domestic abuse happen more frequently to disabled people?
It’s harder for them to defend themselves, get help and get away from the abuse. And the power dynamic changes when one person in a relationship or household is disabled which makes it easier for the abuser to get away with the abuse.
Ill-health or a disability may get in the way of a person leaving their abusive situation, for example if they depend on their abuser’s help and support with care. They may fear being placed in institutional accommodation or becoming isolated in the home. The practicalities of someone’s disability make it more difficult for them to reach out to sources of support, for example if their disability affects their ability to speak or communicate. Often there are few or no opportunities to tell someone about the abuse without their abuser being present.
Sometimes the main family carer is viewed by others as being ‘a saint’ and the disabled person worries that other people may not believe them if they speak up about the abuse.
With some types of disability, there are specific risks of domestic abuse. For example, couples with learning disabilities may find it harder to access appropriate couples’ counselling and relationship support. Another example is that adults with learning disabilities are at higher risk of being forced into marriage.
Unpaid family carers can also be abused by the person they care for. Carers can become socially isolated, which puts them at risk of future domestic violence. Carers may feel pressure to behave like ‘a saint’ and endure the abuse. They may feel trapped in their caring role.
Signs to look out for:
Sometimes the domestic abuse will be very similar to the domestic violence non-disabled people experience. But sometimes not. Abusers may exploit their partner or family member’s disability, frailty or other support needs in unique ways. Here are a few signs to look out for.
An abusive partner controls their partner by
- ignoring their care needs
- removing their mobility equipment to reduce their independence
- removing the person’s sensory and communication devices
- using medication to sedate the person
- deliberately mis-translating sign language in order to manipulate situations
- taking away the person’s disability benefit payments
- deliberately not assisting them to go to the toilet
What is the definition of domestic violence?
For the first time, there is now a statutory definition of domestic abuse. It is set out in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 in two parts as:
a) two people each aged 16 or over who are personally connected to each other
b) and their behaviour is abusive (physical, sexual, violent or threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse, psychological, emotional or other abuse). It does not matter whether the behaviour is a one-off incident or a prolonged pattern of behaviour.
It is important to note that different types of relationship are captured by this definition, including ex-partners and family members. ‘Personally connected’ means:
- married or previously married
- civil partners or former civil partners
- agreed to marry or entered into a civil partnership agreement
- currently or previously been in an intimate personal relationship
- have (or had) parenting relationship of the same child
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021
The Domestic Abuse Bill passed both Houses of Parliament and was signed into law on 29 April 2021 and is set to provide further protections to the millions of people who experience domestic abuse, as well as strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 now adds the following offences:
- Non-Fatal Strangulation
- Coercion and Control behaviour now extends to perpetrators and victims who do not live together
- ‘Revenge porn’ - the threat to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress;
- Controlling or coercive behaviour offence covers post-separation abuse
Domestic abuse is broad - it also includes forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Most domestic violence is a crime. The Metropolitan Police Service Domestic Abuse policy requires the police to arrest all perpetrators where evidence of a criminal offence exists or, in exceptional circumstances, explain why this was not appropriate. This challenges and holds perpetrators to account for their actions. The police strategy is that the safety of the victims is paramount, particularly where children are involved and referral to independent advocates is part of police procedures. The Police will lead on most domestic violence safeguarding enquiries.
Domestic abuse is also category of abuse under the Care Act 2014. This means you have a legal duty to safeguard adults with care and support needs who are experiencing domestic abuse.
What to do if you are concerned
If you suspect an adult with care and support needs is at risk of harm from a partner, former partner or family member:
- Raise a safeguarding adults concern (see London Safeguarding Adults Policy and Care Act Guidance).
- Identify whether there are any children in the environment. If so, make a referral to Children’s Services.
- Follow the procedure for risk assessing a domestic violence case - that is, complete the CAADA DASH-RIC assessment. If the case scores highly on the risk assessment, or if in your professional judgement the case is high-risk, then refer the case to the Islington Domestic Abuse daily safeguarding meeting (DSM). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a referral form.
What’s the CAADA DASH-RIC?
It’s a risk indicator checklist for assessing risk in domestic violence cases. It helps identify which cases are high risk cases that need to go to MARAC. If there are fourteen ticks or more on the checklist, and the case must go to MARAC. If the case scores less than fourteen ticks, you can still refer the case based on ‘professional judgement’. Remember to take the person’s level of vulnerability into account in reaching your professional judgement. Download the SafeLives Dash Risk Checklist.
Why refer to the Domestic Abuse DSM?
The Daily safeguarding meeting takes place every week day. This allows it to react swiftly, address the person's needs at the time the intervention, have the greatest impact and maximise victim engagement. Dynamic information sharing and a needs management approach are integral to the DSM. It is attended by key multi-agency decision makers.