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Different kinds of abuse

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

When most people think of abuse, they usually imagine someone being violently assaulted—hurt, beaten, raped, sexually assaulted, or even killed. While women with disabilities are vulnerable to physical violence, they are also vulnerable to other forms of abuse.

For example, women who are dependent on someone assisting them with their daily care may be shamed; deprived of food, water, or medicine; left so long that they wet or soil themselves; or not be given the care they need. Some people may force women to exchange sexual favors for care. Some girls and women with disabilities are rarely allowed to meet other people or go out of the house. Others may be left alone, abandoned, or abused in other ways.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse happens when someone insults a woman, threatens her, makes her feel frightened, abandons or isolates her, or treats her as though she is worthless. Some people abuse disabled women by saying they would be better off dead, or they are a burden and do not deserve to live.

Emotional abuse can also happen when someone:

  • speaks badly about a deaf woman with people who are not deaf.
  • calls her names or shouts at her for doing things differently.
a man speaking to a health worker while a woman with a hearing aid sits near him.
She's deaf. She'll never understand anything. Just tell me what medicine she needs to take, and don't waste your time with her.
a man speaking to a woman with no arms as she uses her foot to pump water from a village well.
You stupid woman. You'll just spill the water. Get out of here!

Emotional abuse makes a woman weak

Emotional abuse makes it hard for a disabled woman to stay strong. A woman who is abandoned may feel as if she has lost her place and her role in society. It can be easy for her to feel sad and weak.

If a woman is always insulted or called names, she will start to feel stupid or sad. And if someone makes fun of her in front of her friends or neighbors, she may feel ashamed and be less likely to go out. After a while, the woman herself will believe she is not able to do anything worthwhile. A woman who is emotionally abused often suffers from mental health problems or depression. For more information, see Chapter 3 on Mental health.

a woman in a wheelchair thinking after another woman speaks to her.
You are so much trouble, Bahvna. I don't know how I'm going to take care of you and the new baby.
But I could sing songs to the baby and comfort him while you prepare the food. You should give me something I CAN do, rather than treating me like a child.


Sometimes people abandon or refuse to care for a disabled person. A family may abandon a disabled child if they are ashamed or if they think they will not be able to give the child the care she needs. A woman who becomes disabled may be abandoned by her husband or family because they are unable to accept the change in her body.

a disabled woman and a man thinking while they eat together with a large family.
I wouldn’t be here if my husband hadn’t abandoned me.
We’re so poor we barely
have enough food to feed the family. And now we have to feed her too! We’ll be even more hungry, and it’s all her fault.

Many disabled women who are abandoned move in with relatives who may make her feel bad. When there is a lot of work to be done or if the family is already poor, disabled women often feel as though they are a burden. Sometimes relatives blame the disabled woman for being the ‘cause’ of their misfortune, especially if she has children.


Keeping a disabled woman shut inside a room alone is one of the worst forms of abuse.

a woman speaking while she lies on a mat inside a house.
I wish I could go outside. I get so lonely lying here all the time.

When a community does not respect or excludes people with disabilities, then some people are ashamed to have a disabled woman or girl in the family. They may try to keep other people from finding out about disabled women and girls in their families, or pretend they do not exist. Often, disabled women and girls are not allowed to get an education or participate in community events or religious services.

In some communities, disabled women are isolated because other people are afraid that being around them will make them disabled too. And some people believe if a pregnant woman touches a disabled woman, her baby will be born with a disability. None of this is true. You cannot catch a disability from someone else.


Neglect happens when someone who should be caring for a disabled woman ignores her or does not help her. For example, if someone:

  • does not give her food, or feeds her roughly.
  • refuses to help her get medicine she may need.
WWD Ch14 Page 293-1.png
a woman in a wheelchair speaking with a man who sits nearby.
It's time for me to take my medicine. Please help me. I can't reach it.
I'll get it when I feel like it.
  • does not help her with the toilet.
a woman in a latrine speaking with a woman who stands outside.
I've finished. Would you please get my crutches for me?
I'm busy. You'll have to wait.

Other examples of neglect are:

  • leaving a disabled woman in bed for a long time.
  • not helping her get dressed or wash herself.
  • not helping her move or reposition her body to prevent pressure sores.
  • not changing soiled sheets or wet clothes.

People also neglect disabled women by leaving them at home, or by denying them good education, proper food, or clothing.