Just for Women - Domestic Violence

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2017

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women are survivors of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

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Domestic Violence

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women are survivors of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Domestic violence and victimization are directly correlated with increased rates of depression and suicidal behaviors. Women with disabilities are more likely to suffer domestic violence that lasts longer and is more intense when compared to women without disabilities. The reality is that women with disabilities are more dependent upon their caregivers and/or family members to meet their daily needs, thus the abuse can more profoundly impact their daily lives. Based on those numbers alone, approximately 5 million to 8 million women per year find themselves survivors of domestic violence. However, the number of women with disabilities who report their abuse to authorities is low compared to women without a disability. 

What Is It?

Domestic violence can be defined as forceful and aggressive behaviors that are used to enforce power and control over another individual. It can occur no matter your age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, educational level, marital status or race. Common types of domestic violence are: slapping, punching, burning, pinching, shoving or using objects to hit. Women with disabilities face unique circumstances in that they may be withheld from using their wheelchairs, walkers or other assistive devices. Other ways women with disabilities may be abused are that they may be given limited access to their medications, deprived of food or not given access to the bathroom or bathroom equipment. 

These are only examples of the ways an individual can be physically abused, but take note that the emotional abuse an individual may sustain daily has as big of an impact as the physical abuse occurring daily. Domestic violence begins when the abuser decides he or she is the most important person in the relationship and that you (the partner) are meaningless. The abuser will give warning signs to the partner prior to the first episode of physical abuse. 

Some warning signs are: a bad temper, extreme jealousy, verbal abuse, controlling behaviors, demeaning of  the partner privately or in public, possessiveness and/or blaming the partner for the abuser’s behaviors. These warning signs can be seen singularly or in conjunction over a period of time. The reason for the physical assault by the abuser is solely because he or she feels as if control in their relationship has been lost and physical aggression is the only way to regain this lost control.  

Staying Or Leaving

There are many women who decide to stay in a relationship with their abuser. That shouldn’t be judged by family and/or friends. The reasoning is complex and doesn’t need to be understood by outsiders. Some women stay with their abuser because of financial constraints, hopes that their partner will change his/her behavior, fear of lethal consequences, uncertainty of where to go and/or lack of family support. For many women with disabilities, the reason to stay with an abuser is that this person is their sole caregiver and their daily livelihood is sustained by this person. This reliance on another person for sustainable needs makes the decision to leave an extremely difficult one. One study has shown that the physical act of leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for the survivor because it’s at this time that the abuser feels the most vulnerable. Another question that often isn’t understood is why the survivor doesn’t contact the authorities. Many times, the police aren’t contacted because of fear that no action will be taken, the violence against the abused will escalate or that the abused will be blamed. 

Survivors Unite

I’ve chosen to call the women who have made it through the jungle of abuse survivors. Survivors are people who have overcome obstacles that cause them to falter and stumble in life. This obstacle may have been your boyfriend hitting you once and you deciding to leave him, or your husband physically, emotionally and sexually assaulting you numerous times over many years, but you deciding to stay because he’s your primary caregiver. Physical assault leaves scars on your body and soul. You may shudder when a loved one raises his or her voice, have flashbacks of the abuse, have hearing or vision deficits, be wary of new caregivers or question the validity of anyone truly loving you. We, as women who have survived abuse, no matter our race, religion, physical abilities or socioeconomic status, must unite to educate and help others overcome the obstacles of domestic violence. 

It doesn’t matter the scar that has been left on you by domestic abuse — you’re here for a reason, and that’s to shine a light for others to get out of a dangerous and life-threatening situation. If you’re in immediate danger, call 911. If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). 

Background and statistical information provided by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website,

Tabitha Rivers, PT, DPT, NCS, WCC, works in the spinal-cord unit of the Michael E. DeBakely Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.

The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the position of Paralyzed Veterans of America.


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Just for Women - Domestic Violence


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