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What you can do to be safer from violence

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 14: Abuse, violence, and self-defense > What you can do to be safer from violence


Having a disability does not mean you have to accept that you are weak and must always depend on others. You can learn to defend yourself against the many ways you may face abuse, violence or sexual assault.

You can begin by preventing people from giving you ‘help’ you don’t want or need. This is one way you can show people your strength and your ability to speak for yourself and make your own decisions. Although the person offering “help” may not be trying to harm you, do not be afraid to tell them to stop, even if they seem annoyed. If there are other people nearby, speak loud enough so they can hear you too. Practice being firm but not necessarily rude to people who may offer you genuine but unwanted help.

a man touching the arm of a woman using crutches.

When men believe they are free to touch you, they may think they can easily take even more advantage of you. If someone touches you without your permission, say the following 3 things to the person:

  1. “You are touching me.”
  2. “I don’t like that.”
  3. “Take your hands off me.”

If the person holds your arm, or starts pushing your wheelchair, say firmly and loudly:

“You are pushing my chair.”

“Don’t push my chair.”

“I don’t want you to do that.”
WWD Ch14 Page 308-2.png “You are holding my arm.”

“Don’t hold my arm.”
WWD Ch14 Page 308-3.png

If someone is coming toward you and you think they may hurt you, try this:

a woman in a wheelchair speaking.
STOP! Don't come any closer!

a woman sitting up straight and holding the wheels of her chair.
This woman looks confident and assertive.

Many times this action is enough to make the person go away. He will think you will be too much trouble to try to take advantage of. If he keeps coming closer, scream for help.

Attackers usually pick people who look easy to hurt. And a disabled woman, no matter what disability she has, can look especially easy, particularly if she looks as though she is lost or does not know where she is. So acting in an assertive way with a lot of self-confidence is just as important as knowing what to do physically. Being assertive is often a woman’s best protection. When a woman is assertive, she moves, speaks, and acts as if she has a right to be wherever she is. She acts confidently and carries herself like a strong, proud woman. See information on self-esteem.

What to do if you are attacked

If a woman resists someone who tries to hurt her, she is often able to avoid rape. Some people think that trying to stop rape will make an attacker more angry. But an attacker is already dangerous. Resisting rape may allow you to get away, because it can show an attacker that trying to rape you will be too much trouble.

If someone attacks you or tries to rape you, do whatever you can to get away:

  • Do something he finds disgusting, such as drool or spit.
  • Hurt the soft parts of his body such as his eyes, nose, or testicles (balls) by scratching, hitting, or kicking him.
  • Roll your wheelchair into the person as hard and fast as you can.

Make noise, scream, or yell “NO!”
Shout as loud as you can: “HELP!”
Throw chili powder, pepper, or dirt into his eyes. It will blind him for a while and be very painful. You may be able to get away.
a woman shouting as a man attacks her.
WWD Ch14 Page 310-2.png
If you lose your balance easily, it is best
to sit down before you start defending
yourself or fighting back.
When your attacker bends down, hit him in the nose or eyes. You can also use your head to hit his nose.
a woman on her knees using her cane to defend herself.
a woman with no arms hitting a man's face with her head.
Sitting or kneeling down is a safer defense position for women who use crutches, whose legs are weak, or who are unsteady on their feet. Once you are sitting down, poke him with your crutch or cane.

If you use a stick or cane, you may be disoriented if it is knocked away. If you think you are about to be attacked, turn your stick so the short, thick end points toward the man. Poke him with the stick as hard as you can. Do not swing your stick like a baseball or cricket bat. That makes it easier to grab or to knock away.

It is better to poke someone with the short end of your stick than to swing the long end.

a blind woman poking a man with the top of her white cane.

a woman hitting a man's legs with the bottom of her crutch.
If you use crutches, use them as a weapon to hit him.

If you are blind

WWD Ch14 Page 311-1.png
Lift your knee, and push it as hard and fast as you can into his testicles (balls).

Blind women can lose their bearings when someone attacks them. But you can use the attacker’s body to help you. Try to find the place where the shoulder meets the neck. It is one of the easiest places to find quickly and it gives you good information about the position of the rest of his body. Then you can hit him in his soft spots.

Ask a friend to help you practice finding the shoulder quickly, and then finding the tender parts of the body. Your friend can also help
you practice finding a cane that is knocked away.

Practice your skills

Practicing self-defense can help you feel safer and more confident, even if you are never assaulted. Practice having a strong, assertive attitude. Think about different ways to defend yourself and try them with other women. You can organize
a short woman speaking.
Remember, even if you cannot defend yourself, it is not your fault if you are attacked or raped.
a group so you can all learn together. In some self-defense classes, women practice hitting as hard as they can. They can hit a dummy or another woman padded with extra clothes or pillows. This is very useful for women who are not used to fighting.

Families and caregivers can prevent abuse

Girls and women who grow up with disabilities are regularly touched, examined, and moved around by family members, helpers, and health workers. Often this happens without asking permission. Any woman, whether or not she has a disability, has the right to say who can touch her.

a woman speaking.
A woman's body should always be treated with respect.

Families and caregivers can work to prevent sexual abuse by helping a girl learn the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch.’ Always ask for permission before touching her. If she needs help with personal care and daily activities, always allow her to tell you what she wants you to do. Let her tell you how to touch or move her body in ways that are more comfortable. Teach disabled girls to say ‘NO’ to touches they do not like.

Talk to disabled girls about rape and sexual abuse, and make sure they learn to defend themselves.

When you raise a disabled child with love and respect, she will grow up into a confident, assertive woman and other people will be less likely to treat her badly.

Communities can prevent violence and abuse

When a community believes that abuse is a terrible thing, it is rare for a woman to be abused. When disabled women are important members of the community, few disabled women are abused. But in places where communities believe that disabled women are not worth much, many more women with disabilities are abused.

Provide help for women who have been abused, especially women with disabilities. Rape crisis centers, emergency homes, shelters, and other programs against abuse and violence can include special programs to help women with disabilities. Make sure the buildings are accessible and that appropriate information is available for blind and deaf women, and for women with learning difficulties.

Health centers, schools, counseling centers, churches or elders in the community can help care for the mental health of people who have suffered abuse. Counseling can help people who have been abused regain their confidence, self-esteem, and well-being.

Educate and involve men in discussions about why abuse is wrong. Make sure the police and other community officials understand it is never OK to abuse disabled women. Employ people who know the local sign language in all community services, such as police stations, clinics, and hospitals.

a woman speaking.
Recruit women to be police officers and give them special training in helping women who have been abused.

Learn about the laws in your country that protect women who have been abused and explain them to others. Arrange public meetings of women, including women with disabilities, to discuss and protest violence and abuse against women. When women with disabilities, health workers, and others in the community talk openly about these problems and work to end violence, it makes all women safer from abuse.

a large group of women and men meeting together.
Abuse is not just a family
matter. Abuse is a social and community health problem.
a woman using sign language.
A woman should be trusted if she says she was abused. She should be supported, no matter who she is.