Supporting Survivors with Disabilities

Advocate supporting a survivor

Trigger warning: Please be advised that the following article contains content related to sexual violence, domestic and dating violence, which may be disturbing for some readers.

NC State’s Womens Center is committed to supporting all survivors, including survivors with disabilities. We aim to ensure that survivors with disabilities are aware of the support available to them and to provide awareness to the larger campus community on interpersonal violence (IPV) as it relates to people with disabilities.      

Interpersonal violence disproportionately affects individuals with disabilities, who often face increased risk due to factors beyond their control, such as power differentials in caretaker relationships. Disability may also impact an individual’s ability to identify and report abuse and/or access inclusive resources and support. As a whole, the disability community experiences one of the highest rates of sexual assault and interpersonal violence.

Violence against people with disabilities can take many forms. As a result of the trauma that survivors with disabilities experience, they may also experience PTSD and other mental health-related disabilities (although acquiring mental health-related disabilities is not exclusive to individuals who have other disabilities). Individuals who experienced trauma can also acquire a disability due to the impact of the trauma on mental health or the body.   

In addition to social and emotional aspects of trauma for people with disabilities, some persons with disabilities may experience the control or withholding by an abuser of equipment necessary to daily living processes, such as mobility aids and medication.

People with disabilities also may require support with bathing, dressing and feeding, causing survivors to be in intimate situations with their abuser. While topics of disability are becoming more visible in dominant discourse, disability is still not widely recognized as a marker of inequity and exclusion in conversations within other circles of discourse, in academic fields such as sociology or movements and theories such as Black Lives Matter, feminism or womenism.

In contemporary discourse, disability is often referred to as the “ultimate other,” because other marginalized groups make active and intentional efforts to distance themselves from individuals with disabilities within those communities (Frederick, Shifrer). This isolation and exclusion may make survivors with disabilities less likely to disclose their needs when seeking out services. It is important to highlight individuals’ intersecting identities, especially around conversations of interpersonal violence and sexual violence. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all crisis centers to provide services to people with disabilities, but the services and the quality of the services may be affected by the survivors’ identities such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation or other identities. The survivor may also have communication needs specific to their disability or difficulty comprehending and using the services available to them. Conversations around disability, violence, safety and invisibility must continue to take place. Support survivors by:

  • assisting in identifying coping mechanisms during healing and recovery;
  • supporting survivors in creating a safety plan;
  • offering financial support to cover expenses related to interpersonal violence;
  • understanding survivors’ options and rights;
  • making referrals to on- and off-campus resources;
  • assisting the survivor in obtaining a restraining order or no-contact order;
  • reporting to Title IX and/or police;
  • accompanying students as a support person during Title IX and/or police reporting, court and/or student conduct hearings or if/when a survivor receives medical care;
  • helping with academic and housing accommodations.

Women’s Center advocates or Title IX representatives can also reach out directly to professors to request academic accommodations on your behalf related to IPV. Please note that your specific situation will not be disclosed when an advocate from the Women’s Center or Title IX representative reaches out to professors.

Additionally, the Women’s Center has a Survivor Fund, which provides funds for immediate and unforeseen needs that arise as a direct result of a student experiencing interpersonal violence. Funds can be used for (but are not limited to) medical care, counseling/therapy, legal assistance, loss of employment, transportation, relocation, child care, food and other basic needs and/or technology equipment.

Additional Resources

NC State’s Disability Resource Office (DRO) also provides support services. DRO can provide guidance and support on how to request accommodations or testing accommodations, resolving issues of professor conduct toward students with disabilities, disability disclosure and other issues.

Additional local and national organizations and community resources available to support survivors with disabilities include:

Local

National

If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship violence, sexual violence, stalking or any other form of interpersonal violence and are in need of advocacy services, the NC State Women’s Center has trained advocates available to offer crisis intervention, emotional support, resources and referrals. Students can contact the 24/7 Sexual Assault Helpline at 919.515.4444 or email ncsuadvocate@ncsu.edu to schedule an appointment with an advocate.

References

Frederick, A. and Shifrer, D., Race and Disability: From Analogy to Intersectionality, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2019, Vol. 5(2) 200–214, American Sociological Association.