Disability Issues

In North Dakota 21 local domestic violence programs provided services to persons with disabilities who have been victims of domestic and sexual violence. These programs work with their local communities to provide a wide array of assistance to assist the victim in seeking safety, reporting the abuse, and supporting throughout the criminal justice process. In 2008 North Dakota domestic violence crisis centers served 213 persons with disabilities who were victims of domestic violence or 13% of total number of new victims served. Additionally these programs served 34 persons with disabilities who were victims of sexual assault.

Abusers are usually someone the victim knows such as spouse, partner, or family member. Many women with disabilities are of greater risk for abuse and for extended periods of time. Some of the reasons for this may include:

Social attitudes: Persons with disabilities are overlooked in our society as passive or helpless. These biases keep us from identifying persons with disabilities as likely victims of abuse.

Learned helplessness: Persons with cognitive disabilities may have spent time in an institutional environment and have learned to be cooperative and compliant. This makes it difficult for vulnerable people to defend themselves against abuse.

Dependence: Vulnerable individuals are often dependent on their abusers for care. This creates a lack of independence especially with financial issues. People who rely on others may be afraid to complain for fear of being punished. If the person’s disability prevents him/her from leaving a bad situation, they are helpless to escape.

Isolation: Often the abuser isolates the victim and prevents her from using the phone or leaving the home to seek assistance from community agencies that may identify the abuse.

Disability related barriers: If the victim doesn’t speak or is difficult to understand, it may prevent them from reporting. Many times, people with intellectual disabilities do not know very much about sexuality. They may not realize that sexual abuse is wrong. Thus, they may never tell anyone about being abused sexually. If they don't use the correct terms, they may not be believed or considered a credible witness by the legal system.

As is the case with many victims seeking assistance from domestic violence programs, women with disabilities have challenging barriers to reporting the abuse. In these cases, women face:

In North Dakota severe weather, lack of transportation and distance often can be factors in victims of violence not reporting the abuse to anyone. These factors are increased if the victim is dependent on the abuser for her care and well-being.

The helping systems also create some unintentional barriers to assistance such as:

How can we help?

The North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services can assist individuals with referrals to local agencies that will assist persons with disabilities who have been victims of domestic and sexual violence. Our staff is available to connect individuals with community agencies that can assist with breaking down some of the barriers faced by victims and with law enforcement that will investigate allegations of domestic and sexual abuse. We can provide training and technical assistance on domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking to agencies which provide services to victims and their families.

North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities

North Dakota Protection & Advocacy