BFWFP_McCLAIN.doc - Women Disability and Violence...

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Women, Disability and Violence: Strategies to Increase Physical and Programmatic Access to Victims’ Services for Women with Disabilities Dr. Lisa McClain Director of Gender Studies Boise State University, Idaho “Few people with physical disabilities come to the domestic violence/sexual assault program and shelter. Are we alienating this population? What’s a way to draw them in? Maybe we don’t have a large population with physical disabilities in need here. But maybe not.” Staff member, domestic violence/sexual assault service provider Many studies conducted in the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom corroborate a high occurrence of physical, emotional, sexual, and disability-specific abuse among women with disabilities. As this staff member’s observation reflects, however, there exists little evidence that large numbers of women with disabilities attempt to access shelters and other domestic violence/sexual assault programs and services when they are victimized. 1 Why don’t the majority of women with disabilities who experience such abuse show up, seeking services? What might be done to encourage them to do so in greater numbers? Women with disabilities who are also the victims/survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse often find themselves occupying a position between two parallel service networks. Domestic violence service providers are usually skilled at discussing sensitive issues surrounding violence and abuse. However, they are less likely to have significant experience assisting clients with disabilities. This inexperience often extends to a lack of familiarity with the best ways to create an environment welcoming to women with disabilities or to reach out to members of the disabled community to advertise available services. On the The Barbara Waxman Fiduccia Papers on Women and Girls with Disabilities, 2011 series, March 2011. ©2011 Center for Women Policy Studies. All Rights Reserved.
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other hand, disability service providers are quite proficient at helping individuals with disabilities access a range of community services. They typically offer referrals to services involving housing, utilities, health care, and job training. Yet staff members often possess little training on how to identify abuse or on what steps they should take when they suspect abuse is taking place. As a result, a woman with a disability who has also experienced domestic abuse may find herself with no clear place to turn for help. She may not know about her local domestic violence service providers. If she does go to them, she may feel unwelcome if she and staff have difficulties communicating with one another about the abuse or about accommodations relating to her disability. But if she goes to her disability service provider for assistance with other living issues, the topic of domestic violence might never come up. If she does mention it, staff may be unprepared, though willing, to help.
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