Impact Impact Feature Issue on Violence Against Women with Developmental or Other Disabilities

Emotional Abuse of Women with Disabilities (sidebar)


Fran Odette and Enza Ronaldi Excerpted and adapted with permission from Emotional Abuse of Women with Disabilities (1997-2000), by Fran Odette and Enza Ronaldi. For more information, visit the Education Wife Assault Web site at .

Some of society's negative images and myths regarding women with disabilities increase their risk of being emotionally abused in intimate relationships. Those images and myths include the following:

  • “A woman with a disability is not able to give or participate equally in an intimate relationship.” Often the disability gets used as the basis for inequity in the relationship.
  • “A woman with a disability is child-like and dependent.” The abusive partner perpetuates this by encouraging others to speak to him rather than her. He may deny her personal time with anyone, including professionals such as physicians. His control may be disguised as “caring support.”
  • “A woman with a disability is a burden to her partner and family – always needing/taking.” This can be typified by statements such as “My wife is a quad and now she can't do anything."
  • “A woman with a disability is asexual and not able to have a sexual relationship that is satisfying to her partner.” This is reflected in statements by her partner such as ”No man would be sexually satisfied by you" or "I need to find myself a real woman."
  • “Her partner is a martyr or hero for being in a relationship with a woman who has a disability.” He may say things such as "People wonder why I married you."

A woman with a disability may lack self-confidence if her partner has led her to believe that she is not competent or cap-able of living without him. Service providers need to work closely with her to explore options – including options for arranging the disability-related supports she needs – and include her in all facets of decision making so that she feels her actions can make a difference for her and her children.