Violence and disability: What is it and how do I offer support?

Women with disability experience higher rates and unique kinds of violence. There are some practical things you can do to help.

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In an emergency

If you or another person is in immediate danger call 000 now

For those who are deaf, have a hearing or speech impairment, there are a number of ways to contact emergency services:

  • TTY - dial 106
  • Internet relay – and ask for Triple Zero (000)
  • Captioned relay – and ask for Triple Zero (000)
  • SMS relay – text 0423 677 767
  • Video relay – login to Skype and contact one of the National Relay Service (NRS) contact names
  • Ordinary phone - dial 1800 555 727 and ask for Triple Zero (000)


The National Relay Service (NRS) provides more detailed information on these options, including video demonstrations. 

What is violence against women with disability?

Women with disability experience many kinds of violence including sexual assault, and domestic and family violence. Violence can occur in any relationship where one person assumes a position of power over another and causes fear or harm. Sometimes there is more than one perpetrator. An organisation or the State can also be a perpetrator of violence. This is called institutional or structural violence.


Gendered disability violence is violence directed against a woman because she is a woman and because she has disability. Gendered disability violence is a betrayal of trust and a denial of the right of every person to decide what happens to her or his body. Violence is an abuse of power and can be a crime. Factors such as poverty, ethnicity, religion and language barriers can make experiences of violence worse and make it difficult for people to access help.


Women with disability can be subjected to violence by a wide range of perpetrators including intimate partners, family members, formal or paid carers, informal or unpaid carers, staff in institutions, other residents in institutions and disability support workers. The effects of gendered disability violence can last a long time, which may be exacerbated by barriers to accessing help.


Forms of violence 

Women with disability experience many forms of gendered disability violence. These types of violence can include physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence as well as institutional and structural violence. Violence can also be experienced as controlling behaviours and the denial of decision-making opportunities.


Violence against women with disability is more varied in nature than for women in general. Compared to other women, women with disability experience higher levels of all forms of violence, more often and more intensely; injuries resulting from the violence are more severe; and experiences of violence last longer, often because of barriers to accessing appropriate help. Women with disability are also subjected to violence by a greater number of perpetrators, including intimate partners, family members, formal or paid carers, informal or unpaid carers, staff in institutions, other residents in institutions and disability support workers. Forms of violence that women with disability can experience include:


Physical violence

  • physical assault
  • withholding food, water, heat, medication or support services
  • use of chemical restraints
  • use of physical restraints
  • destroying, altering or withholding disability-related equipment
  • rough handling when undertaking care work


Sexual violence

  • inappropriate touching during care giving
  • denial of a woman’s control over reproductive processes
  • forced or coerced sterilisation
  • demanding sex
  • sexual assault under the pretence of ‘sex education’
  • being watched while undressing
  • being left naked or exposed or having a perpetrator expose their genitals


Psychological abuse

  • verbal abuse, forced isolation or intimidation
  • denying or trivialising a woman’s disability
  • humiliation
  • violations of privacy
  • threatening violence, institutionalisation or the withdrawal of care/supports
  • threatening to hurt guide dogs, pets, carers, family members, or friends


Financial abuse

  • stealing money
  • taking control of money or investments
  • refusing to pay for essential medication or disability-related equipment
  • misappropriation of social security payments and other benefits and concessions
  • coercing or forcing a woman to pay for goods for the perpetrator/s


Structural and institutional violence

  • violence perpetrated or sanctioned by the State or a religious authority
  • laws or policies that directly or indirectly discriminate against women with disability and cause some form of harm


Controlling behaviours

  • denial of control over decisions about what happens to a woman's body
  • lack of financial control
  • denial of social contact, employment and community participation
  • denying access to appropriate information


Denial of the right to make decisions about:

  • sexual and reproductive health
  • having a child
  • psychiatric treatment
  • medical treatment including seeing a doctor and choosing their doctor
  • medication
  • lifestyle
  • where they go and who they go with
  • denial of essential care


Violence against women with disability can be a human rights abuse and can amount to cruel and degrading treatment, torture and criminal behaviour.


Supporting women with disability experiencing violence

There are some practical steps you can take to provide support to a woman who has experienced, or is experiencing violence. For more information on supporting a friend or family member experiencing violence you can begin with these general resources. They provide useful information that will need adapting to your particular situation.


How do I support someone experiencing domestic or family violence?

How do I support someone who has been sexually assaulted?

About safety planning

Safety planning for women with a disability


General services and resources

Services are available that support women to increase safety. Use our Service & support map to find the closest generalist or specialist services in your area or call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. These services are available for all women and are free.  


Use the law to increase protection

Many forms of gendered disability violence are against the law. If you are scared for the safety of your friend or family member, you can support them to apply for a protection order. Protection orders are orders of the Court against perpetrators of violence and intimidation. In some Australian states and territories the person at risk can apply directly to the Court for a protection order, or a support person or disability advocate can help. More information about protection orders can be found at What is a Protection Order?


Specialist services and resources

Disability advocacy services

A disability advocate is someone who stands up for the rights of a person with disability and helps to sort out issues, concerns or problems. Disability advocates take direction from a woman experiencing violence. They are private and confidential and only release information with permission. There are Disability Advocacy organisations in every state and territory of Australia.


National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline

If you know someone experiencing the impacts of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation, call the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline (the Hotline) on 1800 880 052. This is a free call, Australia-wide. The hours of operation are: weekdays from 9am to 9pm and weekends and public holidays from 10am to 4pm.


Those who are deaf, have a hearing or speech impairment, can use the National Relay Service (NRS):

  • For TTY/voice calls, ring 133 667
  • For the Speak & Listen service, ring 1300 555 727


Useful links in Easy English 

Tell Someone has information about domestic and family violence in Easy English.

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