Disability Action is a Northern Ireland-based pan-disability organisation. We have worked with d/Deaf and disabled people, Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO’s), and Civic Society Organisations (CSOs) across the region in the development of this report. This report has been compiled by d/Deaf and disabled people.

Article 16 of the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities requires that the Executive, Assembly and UK Government should take all appropriate measures to protect d/Deaf and disabled people, particularly women from all forms of abuse, violence, and exploitation1. The UNCRPD Committee raised concerns, in its (2017) concluding observations, regarding the abuse, ill-treatment, sexual violence and exploitation of women, children, intersex persons, and elderly persons with disabilities. The Committee recommended the following actions to be undertaken in partnership with DPOs and in line with target 16.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals:

· Measures to ensure equal access to justice and to safeguard persons with disability from abuse, ill treatment, sexual violence, and exploitation.

· Measures to ensure that all facilities and programmes are effectively monitored in line with article 16 (3) of the Convention2.

d/Deaf and disabled women are of greater risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation than people who are not disabled3. We experience disproportionate levels of domestic violence and face barriers to accessing appropriate support4. Women’s Aid Northern Ireland report that 41% of women in refuges and 41% of women accessing outreach services have a disability5. The UK has not ratified the Istanbul Convention6 which provides a legal framework to tackle numerous forms of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), including domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation (FGM), so-called ‘honour-based’ violence, and forced marriage. It has been termed the ‘gold standard approach’ to tackling these widespread instances of gender-based violence7.

d/Deaf and disabled women and girls are more likely to experience sexual violence than non-Disabled women and girls8. Evidence suggests

that we are two times more likely to suffer physical abuse from an intimate partner than nondisabled women9 and that d/Deaf and disabled women who experience domestic abuse face compound oppressions10.

A review by Public Health England in 201511 expressed a view that domestic violence against d/Deaf and disabled women was under-reported. Nonetheless, the report concluded that we experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic abuse12 and more frequent abuse over longer periods of time than non-d/Deaf and disabled people’13. We may also experience domestic abuse in wider contexts and by greater numbers of significant others, including intimate partners, family members, personal care assistants and health care professionals. d/Deaf and disabled people also encounter differing dynamics of domestic abuse, which may include more severe coercion, control, or abuse from carers14. d/Deaf and disabled victims are more likely to report abuse from multiple perpetrators: one in five (19%) compared with

one in twenty (6%) for non-disabled people.15 There is a lack of specialist services for d/Deaf and disabled people experiencing domestic violence and many services are inaccessible16. A BBC investigation in 2018 found that just one in ten domestic violence refuge spaces in the UK is accessible to Disabled people with physical impairments17. d/Deaf and disabled people who have communication challenges may experience barriers in accessing helpline support. Women with physical disabilities and who are parents of d/Deaf and disabled children may experience barriers in accessing appropriate refuge. This can mean that d/Deaf and disabled women remain in dangerous situations.

The potential for abuse can be greater within institutional settings as demonstrated by the launch of a Public Investigation into events at Muckamore Abbey Hospital18 and the Older Person’s Commissioner’s report on Dunmurry Manor19 both of which include evidence of violence against and the abuse of d/Deaf and disabled women.

Women participants in research conducted by Disability Action on behalf of the Equality Commission reported that they had experienced high levels of abuse20.

Case Study

A young woman with autism participating in the research provided a disturbing account of lifelong abuse and exploitation. This included being encouraged by a parent to take a dog for a walk with men who abused her. The young woman had nowhere to turn to for help or support. She reported the abuse and was not taken seriously by authorities. The content provided by the young woman in this case study was so disturbing that it has yet to be fully published due to the need to carefully plan and process.

d/Deaf and disabled people and organisations have reported that the police and criminal justice system fails d/Deaf and disabled women reporting sex crimes.21 Case load from Disability Action demonstrates that even in cases in which cctv evidence of abuse is available cases have not made it to court.

It is essential that d/Deaf and disabled women are represented in the decision-making processes which will develop the New Strategies - Domestic and Sexual Abuse Strategy and Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy. Without our input it is unlikely that legislation, policies, programmes and services will address our needs. Consultations processes are not always accessible to us. It is essential to partner with d/Deaf and disabled organisations to develop accessible engagement strategies. Disaggregated disability data is needed, for example on sexual violence experienced by women and girls who are d/Deaf and/or disabled.

Disability Action welcome the emphasis placed upon protecting disabled people from domestic violence and abuse but reject the language used in the draft strategy. Disability Action are concerned regarding the absence of specific measures and targets.

In respect of the draft strategy Disability Action recommend:

· the use of the term disabled people rather than people with a disability

· the text on page 20 should be redrafted in line with the social model of disability. The current text is demeaning and places responsibility on the disabled person rather than the perpetrator or service provider. Disability Action recommend that the text is

redrafted to state. Deaf and disabled people are of greater risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation than people who are not disabled22. Disabled people experience disproportionate levels of domestic violence and face barriers to accessing appropriate support23. Disabled people experience domestic abuse and sexual in wider contexts and by greater numbers of significant others, which can include intimate partners, family members, personal care assistants and health care professionals. Disabled people face physical, attitudinal and communication barriers in accessing support. The cited quote should be removed as this places blame on the disabled person as opposed to noting barriers in accessing provision.

· increased accessibility for d/Deaf and disabled women in reporting an incident and throughout any resulting criminal process, including through provision of sign language interpreters, and access to advocacy, and the implementation of appropriate measures to ensure that evidence provided can meet best evidence tests;

· commissioning of further research to understand experiences of d/Deaf and disabled people in accessing domestic and sexual violence services and support and access legal redress

· Increase funding and availability of suitably skilled and independent advocacy to enable d/ Deaf and disabled women to report abuse in all settings

· investment in commissioning of fully accessible services for d/Deaf and disabled women experiencing domestic and sexual abuse including access to redress.

· The Judiciary, court officials and the PPS engaging directly in trauma informed disability specialist training.

· Measures to ensure that Operation Encompass and in school support is appropriately provided within SEN settings.

· Development of prevention programmes aimed at changing attitudes and norms that encourage abuse

· Healthy relationships and consent programmes for d/Deaf and disabled people

· Stronger sentencing for perpetrators of domestic and sexual abuse and violence against women and girls and a clear pathway to justice particularly for disabled people who have experience domestic and sexual abuse.

· Improved measures for the identification and disclosure of abuse in supportive environments.

· Survivor groups for d/Deaf and disabled women

· Investment in mental health provision for d/Deaf and disabled people

· Training and best practice development to ensure that in all abuse health and social care and institutional settings can be identified and responded to appropriately

· Integrated provision for d/Deaf and disabled people experiencing abuse with access to legal redress

· Meaningful, well-resourced and accessible co-production with d/Deaf and disabled women and girls and their organisations.

For further information contact Nuala Toman, Head of Policy at [email protected]


1 UN General Assembly (2007): Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: resolution/adopted by the General Assembly, 24 January 2007, A/RES/61/106 Article 16 (accessed 4 November 2021).

2 Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2017): Concluding Observations on the Initial Report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, UN: CRPD/C/GBR/CO/1, paragraph 38 (accessed 3 November 2021).

3 DfC (2020): Disability Strategy and Expert Advisory Panel: Report and Recommendations, p.58 (accessed 10 October 2021).

4 DfC (2020): Disability Strategy and Expert Advisory Panel: Report and Recommendations. pp.59-60 (accessed 10 October 2021).

5 Women’s Aid Federation NI (2020): Annual Report 2019-2020. (accessed 2 November 2021).

6 CUHRLS (2020): Why hasn’t the UK Government ratified the Istanbul Convention eight years after signing it? (accessed 30 December 2021).

7 UN Women (2013): Comment made by then-UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri: The Istanbul Convention: strengthening the response to ending violence against women. (accessed 30 December 2021).

8 HM Government (2021). The end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions. CP 437, [online] June, p.4. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1001417/end-to-end-rape-review-report-with-correction-slip.pdf 

9 Slayter, E. (2009): Intimate partner violence against women with disabilities: implications for disability service case management practice, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma 2009, 18: pp.182–199. doi:10.1080/ 10926770802675668 reference in Breckenridge et al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:234. Available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2393/14/234 (accessed 30 October 2021).

10 Nixon, J. (2009): Domestic violence and women with disabilities: locating the issue on the periphery of social movements, Disability and Society 2009, 24:77–89.

11 Public Health England (2015): Disability and domestic abuse - Risk, impacts and response, p.7 (accessed 2 November 2021).

12 Ibid, p.4.

13 Ibid, p.4.

14 Ibid, p.4.

15 SafeLives (2017): Disabled Survivors Too: Disabled people and domestic abuse. p.17 (accessed 2 November 2021).

16 DfC (2020): Disability Strategy Expert Advisory Panel: Report and Recommendations, p.118 (accessed 10 October 2021).

17 BBC News (2018). Why disabled women can't access all refuges. BBC.co.uk, [online] 28 November. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46371441 Accessed on: X

18 DoH (2020): Muckamore Abbey Hospital - Public Inquiry (accessed 2 November 2021).

19 COPNI (2020): Commissioner for Older People concludes his Home Truths investigation into Dunmurry Manor Care Home (accessed 15 December 2021)

20 Toman, N (2022) Progress Towards the Implementation of the UNCRPD in Northern Ireland. (accessed 20 March 2022)

21 Bateman, C. (2021). Sexual violence allegations brought by disabled women 'not going to court', campaign group says. Sky News, [online] 1 August. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/sexual-violence-allegations-brought-by-disabled-women-not-going-to-court-charity-says-12368315

22 DfC (2020): Disability Strategy and Expert Advisory Panel: Report and Recommendations, p.58 (accessed 10 October 2021).

23 DfC (2020): Disability Strategy and Expert Advisory Panel: Report and Recommendations. pp.59-60 (accessed 10 October 2021).