International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – Abuse towards disabled women in the community
Our group of Cohort 4 women are mostly free from previously abusive households, but not necessarily from the abuse that they experience from ex partners or ex family members. Domestic abuse certainly can continue after leaving a partner, especially where there is shared access to children. Additionally, our women are also prone to abuse by others due to visible disabilities or other indicators of supposed vulnerability.
On Sunday two women from Cohort 4 were abused whilst riding in their respective communities whilst on disability scooters. This type of abuse is totally uncalled for and unacceptable, a hate crime perpetrated against disabled women.
Violence against women – disabled women specifically here
Last Sunday was a beautiful sunny day. I went out on my disability scooter for a ride in the sunshine to enjoy the Autumnal freshness. Thankfully, my partner was up ahead on his bicycle. On a quiet estate on the edge of town we drove past a young man verbally abusing his partner on the footpath. He was physically threatening towards her, verbally abusive and she was clearly concerned whilst holding her toddler in her arms. As I drove past, I caught his gaze, and his rage was transferred immediately towards me. He came at me with a verbal tirade of abuse enquiring why I had caught his gaze. The language towards me was foul and abusive, it was abusive relating to my size and was abusive relating to my clear physical disability (I won’t repeat his words here, you get the drift!).
I did politely point out that he had drawn attention to himself on a quiet residential road whilst loudly abusing his partner. At this point, this young man’s rage exploded, and he came into my immediate physical space indicating that he was going to physically assault me. Thankfully, my partner had looked back and seen that I was in a situation of immediate risk of harm and he raced back on his bicycle to protect me. It ended with the man deflecting his rage this time towards my partner with police subsequently being called out. Fortunately, several local residents came out to act as bystanders as they had seen and heard the abuse perpetrated by this young man.
I’m lucky, I’m very ‘thick skinned’ when it comes to abuse (as echoed by his comments about my size!!) so I was ok, but was still shocked that this abuse had occurred on a quiet, lovely, Sunday afternoon and had broadened to include me as a disabled woman daring to glance at a man shouting abuse at his own partner in a public place. For victims of domestic abuse, there is of course no such confidence in having any quiet, lovely afternoons, evenings or mornings. This is the reality of living with abusers, their rage and actions can be frequent and unpredictable.
At the same time, in a town a few miles away…
In a town a few miles away, another woman was riding her disability scooter taking her dogs for a walk. At almost the same time as myself she too experienced abuse about her disability and sex by a man in the street due to her dog daring to bark at his dog. Sadly, this abusive incident left her in a terribly distressed state and assistance was required from both members of the public and her partner was called out to help her.
Sadly disability abuse is not unusual
Sunday wasn’t exceptional. The abuse women experience when riding on a disability scooter is not infrequent. In just over 12 months I’ve experienced several incidents. I’ve had boys deliberately kicking footballs at me, I’ve received abuse from two young men in their 20s shouting abuse across at me, I’ve experienced two boys completely blocking the footpath with their bicycles to prevent me scootering past and now this incident from an abusive man.
This is a shame as riding a scooter has required a cognitive adjustment for me to accept my depleting physical health and I have been personally challenged to accept the need for a disability scooter or to face the alternative, to stop accessing outside, community spaces. I can see how this abuse in the community can act as a deterrence to disabled women accessing community spaces. If when travelling around the community on such a mobility aid you experience abuse from others, it is at best off-putting, at worst, it might prevent you from actually going out again, or only going out with an able-bodied person for company/protection. Although I believe I am fairly robust to abuse given a long history of working in the criminal justice sector and extensive experience of abuse, I have now reconsidered if/how I go out alone and what additional measures I need to take to protect myself from the abuse of, in my case, men and boys.
On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women I send all hopes that abuse of women and girls stops, and that the abuse towards those with disabilities or difference stops. We need to enable all community members to have confidence to access community spaces without risk of abuse and to end hate crime linked to gender or disability.