A two-year research project has uncovered the shocking reality about the lives of women with learning disabilities who have suffered domestic violence.
Researchers at the University of Kent’s Tizard Centre found that victims of domestic violence who have learning disabilities are ‘more vulnerable’ to abuse in the home, but unfortunately do not have adequate support available to them.
Currently there is only one specialist refuge in the UK for women with learning disabilities, and most police officers lack suitable training to deal with cases of domestic violence that concern these women.
In fact, the Tizard research shows that most police officers do not believe a learning disability makes women more vulnerable to abuse in relationships.
In a survey involving members of the police and health and social care workers from across the UK, less than half of police officers felt women with learning disabilities were more at risk.
This was compared to 78% of health and social care staff.
Michelle McCarthy, who led the TIzard research says: “This [type of domestic violence] is about coercive control and women not being free to live their own lives. These women have the least resources in terms of money and social or emotional support, so they’re going to be more vulnerable to domestic violence.”
In recent years, campaigners have helped to increase awareness of domestic violence which has seen it rise up the political agenda.
In the near future, the government plans to introduce a new law which will make ‘coercive control’ (abuse that is not just physical) an offence, but there are concerns this will not extend to carers.
As a result, abusive partners of women with learning disabilities may argue they are acting in the interests of the victim in order to escape punishment.
To ensure more support is provided for these women, McCarthy believes mainstream refuges should be better tailored to support and care for victims of domestic violence who have learning disabilities.
She says: “Women with learning disabilities are women first. Anything that other women are experiencing, they experience too; there’s nothing about having a learning disability that protects women from domestic violence.”