Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 14: Abuse, violence, and self-defense

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 14: Abuse, violence, and self-defense



a group of disabled women protesting abuse and violence against women with disabilities.


Abuse can happen to any woman. Around the world, many women are treated badly by strangers and by people they know. They may be beaten, raped, shamed, sexually assaulted, hurt or abused in other ways, or even killed. Many times no one knows about the abuse because women feel ashamed or afraid to speak about it. They think no one will care or they are afraid they will be blamed for having caused the abuse.

Many women are treated badly because they have less power than the person abusing them, or because they are alone, weak or vulnerable. Disabled women and girls are even more likely to be abused, hurt, or sexually assaulted than non- disabled women. They are seen as even weaker and less important. A woman’s disability never makes violence, abuse, or neglect OK. Women with disabilities deserve to live in safety, with people who care about them and treat them well.

A disabled woman or girl can be abused by men or women—by members of her family, by her husband or partner, by others in her household, or by her caregivers. She can be abused by a neighbor, a family friend, an employer, a co-worker, or a stranger.

If the abuser is someone the woman knows, she may feel she has no one else to turn to, especially if she relies on that person to help her with her daily activities. But when a woman keeps silent about abuse, she becomes more isolated and more vulnerable. Reaching out to someone she trusts can help a woman resist violence and get support.

Abuse and violence against any woman is never OK. Because disabled women often get little respect, they are sometimes seen as not worth protecting. This teaches people that abuse against disabled women is not a problem and that there is no need to respect their rights.

Harmful idea:

an older woman speaking.
Disabled girls are lucky to have someone care for them—even if they have to bear some abuse.

The truth: A disabled girl has a right to be cared for just as other girls. No one is ‘lucky’ to experience abuse.


Harmful idea:

a man speaking.
It doesn’t matter if you abuse a disabled woman. Women with disabilities are stupid and are not worth listening to.

The truth: It is never OK to abuse a disabled woman. No one should ever be abused — especially a woman who has trouble learning. Abuse in any form — whether it is neglect, emotional abuse, not giving care, not allowing her to go to school, making decisions for a woman without consulting her, physical abuse or sexual violence—must be stopped.