Webcast archive: International Women’s Day – disability and femicide – Part I

This week, we discuss the effects of domestic violence on disabled women.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck, Christian Debray, and Taylor Hyatt discuss:

  • International Women’s Day – disability and femicide – Part I

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. We’ll be talking this week and next about how women with disabilities are especially vulnerable to assisted death, whether through domestic violence or assisted suicide and euthanasia (AS/E).  Today we’ll focus on domestic violence.
  • The Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative released a study last year, looking at trends in domestic violence leading to homicide in three “vulnerable populations”: immigrants, children, and people in rural areas. A Global News article about the report noted that women with disabilities were (once again) left out. Bonnie Brayton, executive director of DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN/RAFH), called the omission “a common and problematic practice.”
  • The article referred to a report released in March of 2018 by Statistics Canada, which documented self-reported violence against people with disabilities living in the community in 2014. The report found that disabled women were more likely than either disabled men or non-disabled women to have been robbed, or physically or sexually assaulted.
    • Women with a disability were twice as likely as non-disabled women to have been a victim of violent crime.
    • Women with a disability were nearly twice as likely as non-disabled women to have been sexually assaulted in the past 12 months.
    • Among victims of violent crime, women with a disability were almost twice as likely as non-disabled women to have been victimized more than once in the 12 months before the survey (36% versus 20%).
    • Among disabled survivors of spousal abuse, women were more likely than men to have experienced the most serious forms of violence, to be physically injured, to fear for their lives, and to seek help.
    • About one‑quarter of women with a cognitive disability (24%) or a mental health‑related disability (26%) were sexually abused before they were 15 years old.
    • Though the report says that “persons with a disability, particularly women, are also at greater risk of spousal violence” and cites several studies to that effect, it doesn’t say how many people are abused by their spouses.
  • The StatsCan report does not include the more than 500,000 people living in “a healthcare or related facility.”  As we’ve said before, the conditions in many institutions are abusive by definition, in that the person does not have privacy or control of their daily routine, and violence often occurs in residential settings, committed either by staff or other residents.
  • Since the information in the StatsCan report is provided by the person herself, it’s a good bet that these women are under-reporting violence committed by medical professionals, spouses, family members or others who provide care or services.
  • The StatsCan report further notes that while disabled people are at risk of the same types of violence as non-disabled persons, they also face unique forms of abuse, such as having medications, mobility aids, adaptive equipment, or medical devices hidden or withheld, or the perpetrator refusing to provide essential personal care.
  • A new report from DAWN/RAFH points out other unique problems faced by disabled women:
    • Women trying to use mainstream disability or social services, often face barriers. A study of violence against Muslim women noted that “one woman with a disability was ignored by both immigrant-focused and disability-focused services as neither saw her as the type of client they were mandated to support.”
    • The risk of violence is higher for disabled women who are non-white, younger, Indigenous, LGBTQI-two-spirit, non-citizens, or living in rural areas.
    • Violence often causes disability.  Table 6 of the StatsCan report shows that violence caused more “injuries” and “difficulty carrying out everyday activities” for disabled than non-disabled people.  According to Dick Sobsey (an expert in the field of abuse and disability) “10-15% of brain injuries and 15-20% of spinal cord injuries result from violence.”
  • Disabled women have a hard time getting out of abusive situations for several reasons, including:
    • Lack of funds to support themselves;
    • Relying on their abuser for help with personal care;
    • Having no means of transportation;
    • No accessible domestic violence services in their area, or no information about what accessible services are offered;
    • Not knowing that their experiences count as abuse;
    • Social isolation and segregation, especially in rural areas or on reserves;
    • No accessible housing alternatives;
    • Poor treatment and lack of respect or help from service providers;
    • Lack of skills to support themselves, and
    • Not being believed, or having their abuse minimized.
  • As of 2009 DAWN/RAFH had received a limited number of responses to the National Accessibility and Accommodation Survey (NAAS) of domestic violence shelters.  Of those, 75% “report[ed] having a wheelchair accessible entrance, 66% of shelters provided wheelchair accessible rooms and bathrooms, 17% of shelters provide sign language, and 5% offer Braille reading materials.” All shelters required women to arrange for their own personal care. While 97% of the shelters reported having accommodated women with disabilities at some time, 45% of shelters had turned away women with disabilities.  More than 10% of the shelters said they were “unable” to accommodate women with psychiatric disabilities.
  • Sometimes, as in the case of Michel Cadotte, people claim that killing their spouses is an act of “mercy” or that their actions were  brought on by severe stress.  In her article “A Woman’s Choice” Katrina George cites several studies of mercy killings and murder-suicides, to support her view that “assisted death of women reproduces gendered patterns of violence.” In the studies, the vast majority of perpetrators were men who killed their ill or disabled wives or intimate partners, and the men exerted dominance, control and possession over the women.