The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published two research papers today, one addressing intimate partner violence against people with disabilities and the other looking at non-partner violence against people with disabilities. 

Data included in the research papers came from the 2019 New Zealand Family Violence Study. 

Both papers found people with disabilities experienced significantly higher rates of violence than non-disabled persons. Key findings included:

Women with disabilities being more likely to experience physical and sexual violence from an intimate partner. Defined as ‘intimate partner violence’, this can also include psychological abuse, controlling behaviours, and economic abuse.   

  • 40 percent of women with disabilities report physical violence from an intimate partner compared to 25 percent of non-disabled women.
  • 17 percent of women with disabilities report sexual intimate partner violence compared to five percent of men with disabilities 
  • 11.1 percent experience sexual violence from a non-partner.

Men with disabilities are also more likely to experience physical violence from a non-partner

  • 56 percent of men with disabilities experience physical violence from non-partners, compared with 38 percent of non-disabled men and 15.4 percent of disabled women.
  • 34 percent of men with disabilities experience five or more episodes of non-partner physical violence compared with 14 percent of non-disabled men.

Men and women with a psychological disability experience a higher rate of non-partner physical and sexual violence 

  • For women with disabilities, the main perpetrators of non-partner physical violence were parents and relatives.
  • For men the main perpetrators of non-partner violence were strangers.

Both papers concluded investment into violence prevention is necessary to improve these statistics. The University of Auckland also said the research was “likely to underestimate violence towards disabled people”.

“These results highlight the need to widen our prevention and response systems for family violence,” says a co-author on both papers, Associate Professor Dr Janet Fanslow, of the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health.

“For those who are reliant on family members for care and support, we should be considering the dynamics of violence in the whole family, not just looking at people’s intimate partners.” 

Research results were limited to people living in their own homes. People living in residential services, retirement homes, or who need support to communicate were not interviewed. 

The papers acknowledge there are limitations to the research because the only group interviewed were disabled people living in their own homes, which may not reflect the wider experience of disabled people, like those living in rest homes and institutions. 

Because of this, the issue of violence and disability may be more prevalent than currently understood.