New research shows that disabled people experience higher rates of violence


Thu 29 Jul 2021

Results from a national survey show that disabled people experience higher rates of partner violence and non-partner violence.

This is the first population-based prevalence research exploring experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV) among disabled people in Aotearoa New Zealand. The researchers also explored prevalence rates of non-partner violence among disabled people.

Researchers from the University of Auckland used data from the 2019 New Zealand Family Violence Survey, which surveyed more than 2800 women and men. The findings were published in two open access articles in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

In the first article, Lifetime Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence and Disability: Results From a Population-Based Study in New Zealand (2021), the researchers report that people who had at least one disability were more likely to report IPV in their lifetime than people who did not have a disability, for both women and men. This finding was true for all types of violence included in the survey (physical IPV, sexual IPV, psychological IPV, controlling behaviours and economic IPV). Other key findings include:

  • Women with at least one disability reported lifetime prevalence rates of 40.3% for physical IPV, 16.9% for sexual IPV, 60.3% for psychological IPV, 31.7% for controlling behaviours and 24.7% for economic IPV.  
  • Men with at least one disability reported lifetime prevalence rates of 47.3% for physical IPV, 5.0% for sexual IPV, 51.2% for psychological IPV, 24.7% for controlling behaviours and 19.8% for economic IPV.
  • People with a psychological disability reported the highest prevalence rates for almost all types of IPV. People with intellectual impairments also reported high rates of IPV.
  • Women with a disability reported higher rates of experiencing sexual IPV (16.9%) than men with a disability (5.0%).
  • Men with intellectual disabilities reported higher rates of physical IPV (60.5%) than women with intellectual disabilities (36.0%). 

In the second article, Prevalence of Nonpartner Physical and Sexual Violence Against People With Disabilities (2021), the researchers report that people with at least one disability were more likely to report experiencing non-partner physical violence and sexual violence than people without disabilities. Other key findings include:

  • Regardless of disability status, men were more likely to report non-partner physical violence, and women were more likely to report non-partner sexual violence.
  • Men with disabilities reported high rates of physical violence by non-partners (56%), compared to men without disabilities (38%).
  • Men were the main perpetrators of non-partner violence against both men and women. For women with disabilities, the main perpetrators of non-partner physical violence were family members, including parents and relatives. For men with disabilities, strangers were the main perpetrators.
  • Of people who had experienced non-partner sexual violence, 60.0% of men with disabilities and 43.5% of women with disabilities, did not seek informal or formal help.

The researchers write in the article on Lifetime Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence and Disability:

"Both prevention and response services need to be equipped with the knowledge and resources to address intersectional issues, such as the overlapping nature of gender, ethnicity, and disability. This is imperative because women had higher proportions of disability than men, and Maori had higher proportions of disability than people of other ethnicities. In addition, the gendered nature of violence needs consideration because women tend to be subjected to more severe and frequent IPV, with greater impacts in terms of injuries and fear."

Lead Researcher, Associate Professor Janet Fanslow, commented that the study "highlights the need to develop and support violence prevention and response programmes that are accessible and appropriate for everyone." She further said “Prevention and response services also need to be equipped with the knowledge and resources to respond to multiple circumstances that can increase the risk of violence occurring, particularly gender and disability." 

The researchers note that prevalence rates may be underestimated because only people living in their own homes were surveyed. This did not include people living in residential services or retirement homes, or people who required support to communicate.

These articles are part of a series highlighting findings from the NZ Family Violence Survey. The other articles explored prevalence rates of IPV, sexual violence and abuse trends, and impacts of adverse childhood experiences. See the related news stories below for more information.

Find more information about family and sexual violence statistics and how to interpret them on our website.

Related news and research

The Ministry of Justice published data from the New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey Cycle 3 in June 2021 which also found that adults with disability have a higher risk of experiencing both sexual assault and intimate partner violence during their lifetime, especially when accounting for age.

A report released in July 2021, Negotiating Multiple Identities: Intersecting Identities among Māori, Pacific, Rainbow and Disabled Young People uses data from the Youth19 study to explore the wellbeing of Aotearoa secondary school students with the following identities:

  • Rainbow rangatahi Māori
  • Pacific Rainbow young people
  • Rangatahi Māori with a disability or chronic condition
  • Pacific young people with a disability or chronic condition
  • Rainbow young people with a disability or chronic condition
  • Young people who are both Māori and Pacific.

The report’s authors comment that “This report will shed light on the importance of understanding the way in which intersectionality impacts on the rangatahi of those across various intersectionalities – which, in turn can be used to better support future generations.”

In April 2021, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published research drawing on data from the 2016 Australian Personal Safety Survey and supplementary data sources about experiences of violence, partner violence and emotional abuse, sexual harassment and stalking for persons living with disability. In March 2021, the Australian Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability published the research report Nature and extent of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against people with disability in Australia (2021). 

UN Women published two resources addressing gender-based violence for women and girls with disabilities. COVID-19, gender, and disability checklist: Preventing and addressing gender-based violence against women, girls, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic (2021) is designed for State governments, gender-based violence support service providers, and other stakeholders to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against women, girls, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies. Women, girls, and gender non-conforming people with disabilities: Know your rights! (2021) is a user-friendly guide for women with disabilities across the globe to understand their rights in accessing support when experiencing gender-based violence and to enable them to advocate for their rights. These documents are part of a series of publications from UN Women on women and girls with disabilities.

Related Media

Forty percent of disabled women experience family violence, research shows, RNZ, 22.07.2021

Disabled people report higher rates of sexual, physical violence, new research shows, Stuff, 22.07.2021

Disabled people abused far more than others in New Zealand, disturbing new study finds, Newshub, 22.07.2021

Tasmanian sexual assault support service says reports to police by people with a disability often fail to reach court, The Advocate [Australia], 06.07.2021

Disabled adults more than 50 per cent more likely to suffer sexual violence in New Zealand, NZ Herald, 21.06.2021

New Data Shows High Rates Of Violence Experienced By Disabled People, Press Release: Human Rights Commission, Scoop, 16.06.2021

Disabled young women face double the risk of sexual violence, The Guardian, 15.03.2021

Disability royal commission presented with ‘alarming’ violence statistics, Sydney Morning Herald, 15.03.2021

Image: Marcus Aurelius from Pexels

More news articles about Research