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Opinion: Domestic violence victims who are disabled face multiple obstacles to help

Often when we talk of services for women affected by domestic violence, we talk in terms of able-bodied, English speaking women – but that’s not the full picture.

Margaret Martin

WOMEN’S AID RECENTLY launched Irish Sign Language videos, aimed at promoting our service to deaf women living in Ireland. Following the launch, many women contacted us, expressing their surprise at something they had never thought about before – the additional difficulties deaf women face in accessing a helpline.

This is an important discussion we need to have in Ireland. Often, when we talk of services for women affected by male domestic violence, we talk in terms of able-bodied, English speaking women. Yet, there are multiple oppressions faced by migrant women or women with disabilities who are experiencing domestic violence, which we need to take into account.

Research by Women’s Aid shows that one in five women in Ireland will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime. Although we do not have specific figures for Ireland, UK evidence shows us that for women with a disability, this figure doubles. Be it at the hands of their partner, family, or carer, almost one in two disabled women will be abused in their lifetime.

More complex forms of abuse

Some of their experiences fit within traditional definitions of domestic violence, but for a woman with a disability, domestic violence can take on a more complex form specifically related to their disability – such as having medicine withheld, or deliberately not assisted to go to the toilet. Even when they seek help from their GP or the Gardaí, their abusive partner/carer can easily take over and may even appear more credible to services unfamiliar with the dynamics of domestic violence, especially for women with a disability.

Leaving an abusive relationship is extremely difficult for any woman, many of whom have nowhere else to go, have limited financial resources, or have children to take into account. However, for women with disabilities there are additional barriers. Often, the abuser not only has a physical advantage, but is often the person being relied upon for care. Escaping an abuser often means leaving a home adapted to meet their needs or residential care. Refuges, many of them operating at skeleton levels due to funding cuts, are not always accessible or able to meet their needs.

Migrant women also face additional barriers. Immigration legislation can impact on the lives and choices of migrant women and curtails their options in leaving abuse, particularly when social welfare restrictions apply. Alongside this, cultural issues can often be a significant barrier to women seeking help. Up to one third of women seen by our Services Team are migrant women.

The battle to reach especially vulnerable women 

Women’s Aid is committed to ensuring our service is accessible to all women. In the past two years, we have made some strides in making our service more accessible to all women experiencing domestic violence in Ireland. We have a Language Line interpretation service, via our National Freephone Helpline (1800 341900). This service enables Helpline workers to connect women with limited or no English to an accredited and professional translator who can facilitate translation between the woman and the Helpline worker, so that the woman can access support and information appropriate to her needs. We have translated pages on our website with information about our services, available in Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Polish, French, Chinese, and Arabic.

For deaf women, Women’s Aid operates a text service, as well as the face to face support service that is available for deaf women experiencing domestic violence. All texts are treated in the strictest confidence and we will support you face to face by using an accredited professional interpreter.

These are just small steps. Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult for all women but even more so for migrant women and women with disabilities. More work is needed in Ireland on the experience of women in minority groups experiencing domestic violence, as well as the resources needed to ensure they get the help and support they need.

Margaret Martin is the Director of Women’s Aid. Women’s Aid will launched their Annual Report on today, Wednesday 24 September 2014, in the Alexander Hotel – revealing that in 2013, 88 calls were facilitated in 19 languages.

Sign language videos target deaf women at risk of domestic violence

Why are there no refuges for male victims of domestic violence?

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About the author:

Margaret Martin

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