Domestic Violence and Physical Disability: Awareness and Advocacy

By: Tegan Stuart, OCADSV Intern (summer 2018)

Social isolation and lack of independence are major risk factors for victims of domestic violence. While persons living with physical disabilities are subject to traditional forms of domestic violence they are also often subject to other forms of abuse such as neglect, withholding of necessities, and elevated physical restrictions due to already restricted movement and actions taken by the individual doing harm. If an individual is reliant on partner care, not only is a power dynamic created, but also a unique set of barriers for help are put into place. In addition to this, many program centers, shelters or legal buildings are physically inaccessible or ban the use of necessary service animals.

Barriers to justice are not only physical. Legally, domestic violence statues in many states are not defined to include emotional abuse, financial abuse, denying medical care, denying movement or other similar acts of violence.

Oregon, in particular, has limited statues. According to ORS 135.230, abuse is defined as “attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing physical injury; Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly placing another in fear of imminent serious physical injury; or committing sexual abuse in any degree as defined in ORS 163.415” Oregon simply defines domestic violence as “abuse between family and household members.” This provides legal advocates with a challenge as DV amongst survivors with disabilities may not involve physical injury, threat or battery.

As anti-domestic violence organizations, it is critical to recognize the diverse ways in which victims are subject to DV. Legal advocates must make a point of identifying the harm caused by physical control and making connection within Oregon statutes.

It is also vital to ensure that one’s office, building, shelter, or center is physically accessible. Use the US Department of Justice checklist below to find out if your program is accessible:

Additional resources

Safety Planning for Domestic Violence Victims with Disabilities 


Tegan Stuart was an intern with OCADSV during the summer of 2018. She is in her fourth year of undergraduate studies at Saint Mary’s College of California, although she was raised in Vancouver, Washington. She became interested in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy after working with the Student Coalition Against Abuse and Rape (SCAAR) on her campus. In early 2018, she was awarded a community engagement award for her work with the women’s resource center on her campus. Tegan believes that SA and DV harm everyone in a community. While studying Allied Health Science and Creative Writing now, she hopes to go on to receive a Masters in Public Health with a concentration of Maternal and Child Health after she graduates. Tegan enjoys creating digital art, reading young adult fiction, and performing spoken word.

Tegan’s internship with the Coalition ended in August 2018. We wish her well as she continues her undergraduate studies!

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