Earlier this week it was reported that, in Australia, tackling domestic violence has finally found its way onto the country's agenda. However, disability advocates say that the discussion around domestic violence has excluded the experience of disabled women - and research shows that the domestic violence experienced by disabled women can be more severe than against other women.
Sadly, this is nothing new. Six years ago, in 2009, Women's Aid published a report called 'Making the links: disabled women and domestic violence'. It found that disabled women are twice as likely to experience abuse as non-disabled women. The recent activity in Australia has brought these issues back to light, and they must not be buried in the dark again. Australia shows us that, no matter which side of the globe you hail from, the experience of domestic violence can be a shared one - a shameful indictment of the world we live in today.
We know that the desire to control a woman and limit her freedoms is the very essence of domestic violence: the invisible prison that he weaves around her. When your partner becomes your carer - as so many do - the power imbalance becomes even more pronounced. It is quite terrifying to imagine. When abusers are carers, the abuse is often linked to and dressed up as 'care' - a wolf in sheep's clothing. The perpetrator of domestic violence deliberately emphasises and reinforces the woman's dependence as a way of asserting and keeping control. He will exploit her with every tool at his disposal.
This is a different phenomenon from the carer who is overwhelmed by exhaustion and frustration, and takes it out on the cared-for partner. This is deliberate, coercive, controlling abuse: it is domestic violence. And it is vital to support professionals, particularly those working with vulnerable adults, to recognise and respond appropriately to both.
One survivor's testimony in 'Making the links' is a perfect example of the issues here. She said: "One time, he actually took the battery out of this wheelchair I'm in now. He just unplugged it so I couldn't move and if it wasn't for a mutual friend that came to the house he wouldn't have plugged it back in. And I don't know how long I'd have been staying there with a dead battery."
That shocking image - of a woman, in her wheelchair, unable to move because he has decreed it so - is something that we know at Women's Aid is all too common. It is why we advocate a needs-led approach that aims for lasting recovery for all women, taking into account their individual strengths and circumstances - an approach that empowers women to shape their own destiny, not disempowering and even blaming them as a risk-focused approach unintentionally tends to do.
It's also why we campaign against the dangerous loss of specialist domestic violence services. There needs to be provision for the diversity of survivors and victims of domestic violence. Some women will be disabled, and some will not. Why do we assume that a disabled woman would not be a victim of domestic violence too? It's time to take the blinkers off. Men who abuse do it deliberately, and aim to gain control through fear. They will seek out opportunities to do so. Yet there is only one specialist domestic violence service for deaf women in England. There is only one refuge specifically designed to meet the needs of women with learning difficulties. It's hard enough to find a refuge place for everyone. If you use a wheelchair, it is often impossible - or the wait in itself can be life-threatening. And don't forget what I said before: disabled women are twice as likely to experience abuse as non-disabled women.
Our report back in 2009 was grounded in the social model of disability, in which disability is viewed as socially created, and barriers are caused by the failure to take account of the needs of disabled people. It is this failure that is truly disabling, not people's individual impairments. Nowhere is this more dangerous than in our failure to respond to disabled survivors of domestic violence.