07/03/2014 10:59 GMT | Updated 07/05/2014 06:59 BST

When You Can't Tell Anyone You've Been Raped - Because You're Disabled

As women across the world get ready to celebrate their International Day, there is one sobering subject that we should not forget - the terrible toll abuse and violence takes on women, particularly disabled women.

Startling evidence shows that violence still dominates the lives of many disabled women. It is an issue on our own doorstep in the UK, where disabled women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, and it is an issue around the world.

In the UK, more than half of disabled women have experienced domestic abuse during their lives, compared to a quarter of non-disabled women. A study of women using domestic violence services reported that disabled women said that their disability made the abuse worse and severely limited their capacity to escape.

Research by the World Bank shows that internationally, women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence as non-disabled women. They are also likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and get little or no support when they do.

We know that for many women confidence is central to their escaping from abuse. Confidence in themselves, confidence that they will be believed and confidence that they will be safe. For disabled women confidence is critical too - but sometimes the barriers are higher.

In Kenya, Ashura, one of our Leonard Cheshire Young Voices campaigners, has told us the terrible story of a young girl with a hearing impairment. The girl had been raped by one of her school teachers and had become pregnant. She stopped going to her lessons and was kept locked in her dormitory by the school. I'm so relieved that, with local help, Ashura managed to get the girl removed from her school and placed in the care of guardians. The case against the teacher is still being pursued.

But supporting young disabled women is part of the invaluable work that many charities, including Leonard Cheshire, do to bring forward the day when women all round the world will live without fear.

And there is important work still to do in the UK too. In Northern Ireland we were shocked when we heard how many disabled people we support were feeling fearful of going out and making the most of their lives. So we developed the Be Safe, Stay Safe programme. To date it has supported 9,000 disabled people and their families across Northern Ireland to feel safer inside their homes and in the community.

Working with the Police and Department of Justice there, excellent practical advice is empowering people on the programme to feel safer and more confident when faced with bullying or hate crime. The majority of people taking part are women who tell us their major concerns are around personal safety and relationships.

This year's theme for International Women's Day is 'Inspiring Change' and the change that all of us working to support them want to see is disabled women living their lives safely, free from fear and abuse.

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