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Report: A Disability Raises the Risk of Domestic Violence

October 29, 2008

Taylor County, WV - A disability may be a risk factor for domestic violence, according to a study presented this week at the American Public Health Association. It shows that close to one woman in three with disabilities has been physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

Carol Moats, an outreach advocate with the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center in Taylor County, says abuse takes many forms, and mental abuse is usually even more common. She says family members, friends and medical providers can pick up on clues that abusive treatment has been happening.

"During an appointment, an abuser will speak for, or speak over, the victim, so the victim's story doesn't come out. It's important for people close to the abused, such as medical workers, to recognize if that is taking place."

The good news, Moats says, is there are resources available to create safe environments and help people with disabilities move on to better lives. She says one woman with diabetes, who was blind, was being abused by being given intentionally-wrong dosages of medication. The woman reached out for help and is much healthier.

"By living alone in an apartment, with proper medication, and without the abuse and stress, her eyesight has improved."

Moats says that if abuse is suspected, it's important to convey to the victim that it is safe to talk. She says people with disabilities face additional challenges in reaching out, because the abuser may not allow them to be alone, or might threaten to no longer help care for them if they tell. The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence has also provided training to disability service providers to help them screen for abuse.

More information on the study presented at the meeting is online at www.apha.org.

Deborah Smith/Steve Powers, Public News Service - WV