Violence against women with disabilities in France

The yearly French survey Cadre de vie et sécurité (Living conditions and safety) of the French government highlights that people with disabilities (between 18 and 64 years) are more often confronted with all kinds of violence than able-bodied people. 7.3% of people with disabilities have experienced physical or sexual violence in the 24 months preceding the survey, compared to 5.1% of the general population. They also experience more threats outside of the household (+ 3.3 points) and insults (+4.2 points). Disability therefore is a major factor in victimisation rates.

This divergence is even more pronounced when it comes to women with disabilities (WWD). 9% of them have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, compared to 5.8% of able-bodied women. Over a two-year period, 4.0% of WWD experience sexual violence, a rate that is at 1.7% for able-bodied women. WWD are also more often exposed to verbal violence, with 18.1% having experienced insults and 8.2% threats. When controled for other variables, such as age or household composition, victimisation risk increases even more for WWD, by 4.8 percentage points for physical and/or sexual violence, 4.6 for threats and 6.7 for insults respectively.

Not only do people with disabilities experience violence more often, they also report a more traumatising impact on average than the general population. For example, they report more psychological impacts that disturb their daily functioning, including their professional functioning. This can be explained by more multiple victimisations and more serious forms of violence, which lead to more frequent broken bones and other injuries, as well as to more frequent medical care. Again, WWD are concerned more often compared to men with disabilities.

Violence against people with disabilities takes place more often in their neighbourhood than for the general population. They experience assault in their home or building two times more often, which is even more so the case for physical and sexual violence. They are also more often confronted with more than one attacker.

And the perpetrators ? The majority are adult men who act on their own, even if for people with disabilities, female perpetrators are more frequent than for the general population. This can be explained by the over-representation of women among professional and family caregivers. People with disabilities report more often than able-bodied people that they know the perpetrator intimately or superficially, no matter if the violence occurs in their homes or in public space. For example, 68% of people with disabilities having experienced threats, 61% having experienced physical violence and 47% having been insulted respectively knew their attacker.

One in four people with disabilities having experienced violence or theft has filed a report with the police, while for the general population, this proportion is lower with one in five. This is particularly true in case of physical or sexual violence. The police report statistics are an additional source of information for the survey. Men with disabilities use police services more often than women with disabilities, except for sexual violence and offenses against human dignity (a series of offences including human trafficking, pimping, prostitution of minors and exploitation of begging, among others). Sexual violence concerns a disproportional number of young women between 15 and 29, as well as people with disabilities that are not physical. However, the other types of infractions reported to the police concern a majority of victims with physical disabilities.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that more people with disabilities declare to feel unsafe than the general population. 17% of people with disabilities feel unsafe in their village or neighbourhood often or from time to time, which leads 16% to limiting their mobility due to safety concerns, compared to 11% and 9% respectively for the general population. People with disabilities also feel more often unsafe at home (14%). These differences are explained by the higher victimisation rates, as well as in differences of other characteristics (age, living conditions).

The survey measured disability through a (self-)definition of respondents for a household, either by ticking “disabled” or “experiencing difficulties in daily life functioning”. For methodological reasons, people with disabilities are under-represented in the survey (8% of the sample), because the survey has not been made accessible, nor has assistance been provided for filling in the questionnaire. In addition, people living in institutions were excluded, with concerns a disproportionate number of people with disabilities. Therefore, the numbers have to be interpreted with caution, as they only reflect the tip of the iceberg of violence.