Monday, December 01, 2008

Disabled Neglected Victims of Domestic Violence

Posted by Hannah at 12:57 PM

Women's Enews I thought had a good article about disabled parties, and the limited resources they have to reach out for help.

Feds Focus on Disabled as Hidden Victims of Abuse
Run Date: 11/28/08
By Annemarie Taddeucci
WeNews correspondent

Women with disabilities often feel left out of domestic-violence shelters and unable to communicate with hotline operators. A national meeting in December may help spotlight a hidden population of abuse victims and survivors.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Domestic violence among women with disabilities rarely if ever gets this kind of national attention.

But next month, representatives from 150 programs that receive funding from the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women will meet in Nashville, Tenn., to discuss this particular safety problem.

Cindy Dyer, executive director of the Office on Violence Against Women--which provides $10 million in yearly funds to state and community organizations--said the focus of the Dec. 16-17 meeting will be on improving coordination between disability-service providers and the array of institutions involved with domestic violence: battered women's shelters, the police and the courts.

"One thing we do know is that we need to be able to provide a victim with all the different services that she needs wherever in the system she falls," said Dyer.

Dyer said women with mental disabilities are a particular concern because abusers will often consider them less likely to report abuse or be believed.

Karen, a woman with multiple physical and congenital disabilities, said that has been true in her own case.

Because she feared being identified by her current abuser, she only agreed to be interviewed if her real name was not published. She said service providers have been unwilling and unable to help her.

"I've been abused by caregivers, family, boyfriends, nurses and doctors, and even by other disabled people my entire life," Karen told Women's eNews recently. She was contacted through an online support group for people with disabilities.

'I've Been Turned Away'
Karen said she has been forced to deal with counselors with no training in disability issues, including social workers on an abuse hotline. "Battered women's programs have literally turned me away because of my disabilities," she said. "My church gave me the cold shoulder as well."

Karen thinks service providers often don't consider the possibility of domestic violence among people with disabilities. She said she is often told that she must be exaggerating and her abusive caregiver is the one who is treated like an "overstressed victim."

"It's made out to be my fault because I haven't done the 'sensible' thing of resigning my life and moving into a nursing home."

While men with disabilities are susceptible to domestic abuse the problem is worse for women because they, as a group, are five to eight times more likely to suffer from domestic violence by intimate partners than are men, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Women in the United States with disabilities are significantly more likely to suffer from domestic violence than are other women.

Estimates differ, but the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in October that 37 percent of women with disabilities report intimate partner abuse as compared to 21 percent of women without disabilities.

This figure does not include violence suffered at the hands of caregivers or family members who are not intimate partners.

Many Shelters Inaccessible

Many battered women's resources are not accessible to people with disabilities. Safe havens and the legal system may not be equipped to deal with a victim who is deaf or cognitively impaired, for example.

The Office for Women in Westchester County, New York, is beginning to move into this neglected area of abuse prevention.

In partnership with the Westchester County's Office for the Disabled, the women's office is currently conducting one of the first local studies in the nation on rates of abuse among women with disabilities.

The joint effort--which works with shelters and other providers of nonresidential services for sufferers of domestic violence--hopes to gain more information about such incidences among residents of Westchester County. The agencies were founded five years apart about three decades ago.

Camille Murphy, director of the Office for Women, said the idea arose when she and her colleagues noticed over the years that "although all of our shelters are accessible, the use of them by disabled people had become real."

Last spring, Westchester County was "able to turn a direct focus on the issue," says Murphy. Soon thereafter surveys were sent to 350 police departments, elected officials, battered women's shelters and disability service providers.

To date the county has collected about 10 percent of the surveys and expects to complete the data collection process in January 2009.

Murphy said 70 percent of those women with disabilities surveyed so far have been abused by caregivers, including both family members and professionals.

When the research is complete, Murphy said she and her colleagues hope to better understand how to provide services that address the unique needs of domestic violence victims who have a disability.

Murphy says that in addition to encouraging community outreach, Westchester County expects to be able to create a "more formal network of service providers," who will have been trained in disability sensitivity and accessibility issues in order to more directly concentrate on these needs.

Model of Comprehensive Services

One group that might provide Murphy with a model is New York City's Barrier Free Living. Established over 25 years ago, it offers comprehensive services for people with disabilities and has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of 12 model programs in the country.

The organization runs two programs for people with disabilities who are affected by abuse.

Freedom House, in operation since 2006, is the nation's first totally accessible crisis shelter. Offering food, clothing and occupational therapy, the safe haven has strobe lights that serve as alarms for deaf individuals, Braille signage for the blind and a completely wheelchair friendly design.

It was developed for both abuse survivors with disabilities and those survivors with children who have disabilities. In short, the shelter primarily serves individuals and families affected by disability and domestic violence, housing 95 residents at a time for up to four-and-a-half months.

Nonresidential intervention services--such as counseling and safety planning--are provided by the Secret Garden, the second program run by Barrier Free Living.

Secret Garden services include help with placement in residences, lining up future home care, medical care and schooling for children.

Between the 44-apartment Freedom House and the intervention services of the Secret Garden, Paul Feuerstein, president of Barrier Free Living, estimates that the organization served 2,000 victims of abuse last year, most of whom were women and children.

"We have worked with women from 13 different states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, who have come to us for services because they haven't been able to find the accessible shelters where they are," Feuerstein said.

Annemarie Taddeucci, a quadriplegic, is a writer and journalist, as well as a graduate student in the forensic mental health counseling program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

This story, part of our New Writers Program, was funded by the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

This story linked to another one that spoke of an organization that will be helping those that are disabled

Women's Silent Pleas Are Heard by Seattle Facility

Run Date: 11/20/06
By Molly M. Ginty
WeNews correspondent

Seattle has opened the first transitional housing facility in the United States for deaf domestic violence survivors, with special alarms to signal for help. Fourth in "Dangerous Trends, Innovative Responses" eight-part series.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Faith Stinson never heard the screams.

When she opened her bedroom door, she found her 6-year-old son trembling and sobbing in the hallway. Her boyfriend had berated the boy, then locked him outside her room. Stinson, who is nearly deaf but who was not wearing hearing aids at the time, didn't hear the barrage of insults or her son wailing and pounding on her door.

"My ex tormented my son, made scenes in public and stalked me while I was at work," says Stinson, a Seattle writer whose name has been changed to protect her privacy and safety. "Through it all, he took advantage of his hearing and my inability to catch everything others said."

One night in September, Stinson's ex raped her. Shortly afterward, she and her son moved to A Place of Our Own, a new program that is run by the Seattle nonprofit Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Service and that houses deaf women and their children as they transition from leaving their batterers to living independently.

"A Place of Our Own is the first of its kind in the United States, and probably in the world," says Marilyn Smith, the facility's director, who is deaf herself and who helped found Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services in 1986 after a local deaf woman was murdered by her husband. "Deaf victims deserve a housing program that is designed specifically for them and where they are among other deaf victims in an environment that is deaf-friendly."

Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services is helping to launch replication projects in 15 communities across the nation in Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit; Honolulu; Minneapolis, Minn.; Philadelphia; Rochester, N.Y.; Salt Lake City; Tampa, Fla.; Washington, D.C; in the states of Wisconsin and Vermont; and in the San Francisco Bay Area. It also has 28 other communities on its waiting list.

"This program fills a critically important niche," says Nancy J. Bloch, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, based in Silver Spring, Md. "It serves as an exemplary model for others across the nation to emulate."

Universal Violence Rates

Deaf and hearing women experience domestic violence at roughly the same rate, with 1 in every 4 women affected during her lifetime. Women--whether gay or straight--are the victims in 85 percent of cases, according to the Washington-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

For both deaf and hearing women, the cycle of violence is the same: an eruption, a period of making up and restoring calm, the buildup of tension, then the next explosion. The pattern can be difficult to break because it becomes the norm, and also because of extenuating factors: children, money, housing and the stubborn hope that the situation might change.

But for the hard of hearing, who number 28 million in the United States, there are added complications.

"Victims may be unable to convey the truth to police or social service providers who don't speak sign language," says Smith, who was raped as a college student but whose attacker was not arrested because police could not understand her signing. "The abuser may even act as translator and repeatedly insist that nothing is wrong."

Emergency response teams that rely on 911 calls are not always designed to communicate with the deaf, and cell phones can only be used by the hearing.

If the abuser can hear, he may more readily find higher-paying work than his victim. Like Stinson's ex, he may be the breadwinner and homeowner in the relationship. Finding housing without the abuser can be daunting. Hard-of-hearing people seeking rental apartments face discrimination in 50 percent of cases, according to a 2005 governmental study.

"These are barriers to self determination that don't exist in the broader environment," says Cathy Hoog, an advocate specialist at A Place of Our Own.

Text Telephones and Interpreters

Over the past two decades, Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services has trained emergency personnel to identify deaf domestic violence victims and has put text telephones on Seattle's streets and American Sign Language interpreters in its police precincts.

It has created support groups, educational workshops and housing referral services for deaf victims. It has provided community education to 22,000 deaf and hearing people in addition to the thousands of deaf citizens it has served through the national deaf domestic violence hotline it helped create.

In August it launched A Place of Our Own, which is designed to accommodate 19 deaf women and their children. Costing $8.6 million to build and created with support from foundations, individuals, the city of Seattle, King County and the state of Washington, the facility has a projected annual operating budget of $1.5 million. The program recently received a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, and will use this money, appropriated through the Violence Against Women Act, to hire three more employees and bring its total staff to 19.

Currently managed by the YWCA of Seattle's King and Snohomish counties, the program expects to operate autonomously in three years.

Each of the facility's apartments includes TTYs--teletypewriters that enable the deaf to use the telephone--and lighting systems that signal children's cries, doorbells, fire alarms and telephone rings.

Open Sightlines and Communal Design

The 32,256-square-foot, four-story building offers open sightlines so clients and staff can sign and lip read while in different rooms. Communal areas such as the dining room, study and garden are designed to promote interaction and build community among residents.

Staff members are fluent in American Sign Language and either have experience working with the deaf or are deaf themselves. Working with clients one-on-one and in groups, they provide therapy, parenting classes, child care, job skills training, and legal and medical advocacy.

"All of this makes this a safe place for deaf victims, and makes them less tempted to go back to their abusers," says Rob Roth, a member of the program's steering committee and the former director of San Francisco's Deaf Counseling, Advocacy and Referral Agency.

The facility accepts clients who earn 30 percent of Seattle's median income--setting its income limit at $18,700 for one mother and a single child--and charges clients less than 30 percent of their income in rent. Residents and their children may stay for up to two years.

So far the facility has only four residents, but administrators expect to be at full capacity by December.

Clients already have success stories to share. There is the boy who no longer slaps his mother to get her attention, as his father did. There is the progress made by Faith Stinson and her son, who are launching a new life together.

"I'm undergoing counseling to work through the changes that have affected both of us," says Stinson. "This is a place where both of us can feel secure and safe."

Molly M. Ginty is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

This series is supported by a special grant from Mary Kay Inc.

I'm thankful that programs are starting to pop up for the disabled neglected victims of domestic violence. I hope and pray such programs continue to grow and reach out to those that feel cut off from others.

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