Misogyny and domestic abuse experienced by disabled women

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2019 National Women's Conference
25 October 2018

Conference notes that, as the #MeToo movement demonstrates, misogyny is widespread in our society. However for disabled women there are particular challenges. Disabled women are more likely to be subjected to sexual assault, harassment and domestic abuse than non-disabled women. When they seek help they are often failed by inaccessible services that are not tailored to their needs. Women with learning disabilities may find it difficult to articulate their experiences, or be disbelieved when they try.

Sexism and misogyny are undoubtedly learned behaviour, the same way racism is or for that matter any form of oppressive and discriminatory behaviour is.

Statements like ‘boys will be boys’ leach into society and trivialise issues while giving men – consciously or subconsciously – an excuse to be ignorant and reinforce a value system that holds women accountable for the actions of men.

A man wolf-whistled you in the street? You were sexually harassed in the workplace? Well maybe if YOU covered up this wouldn’t have happened. This misogynistic mind-set highlights all that is wrong with attitudes towards women, and is all too often left unchallenged.

Frustratingly these age-old ideals are further perpetuated by both our national and social media. The concept that ‘sex sells’ repeatedly encourages the objectification of women, however although media manages to encourage these perceptions, it is actually only a fraction of the whole oppressive nature of misogyny and sexism.

In an official analysis of sexual assault statistics conducted by the Crime Survey of England and Wales this year, “one in five women in England and Wales had experienced some type of sexual assault, since the age of 16.” However this doesn’t take into consideration the additional level of sexual abuse, violence and oppression Black, LGBT and disabled women face on top of this. A report commissioned by Women’s Aid – Making the Links: Disabled Women and Domestic Violence stated that “disabled women are twice as likely to experience gender-based violence as non-disabled women.”

Conference notes that according to the Office for National Statistics more than 80% of victims don’t report the ordeal to the police. There are many reasons why women do not report. When it comes to the reasons for not coming forward there are many factors at play not least of which is that upwards of 70% of rapes are committed by acquaintances, friends or family members, which can play a part in deciding whether to report someone within close quarters of you – especially if they can easily access your details or home address.

Where this becomes even more difficult is where that person is your carer. A carer may control your money and provide the assistance for you to leave your home. Where your abuser is your carer they are the person who you are sometimes physically dependent on for being able to just meet your everyday personal needs. The study for Women’s Aid revealed that “At times, abusers deliberately emphasised and reinforced the woman’s dependence as a way of asserting and maintaining control. The vulnerability felt by disabled women was greater when subjected to physical abuse”

The control can become a toxic, misogynistic abuse of power which preys on the perceived vulnerability of some disabled women and needs to be stopped.

Conference strongly believes that misogyny, sexism and domestic abuse are everybody’s problem and women shouldn’t have to work alone for change against a system set up and upheld by men. Empathy and understanding are the foundations of solidarity.

Conference asks the National Women’s Committee to work with the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1)Raise awareness of the particular issues that disabled women face when subjected to misogynist behaviour

2)Continue to publicise UNISON’s Harassment at Work guide

3)Lobby and campaign with all relevant internal and external bodies, including Labour Link, to seek accessible support services for disabled women to leave abusive situations.