Supporting Survivors with Disabilities: When Your Abusive Partner is Also Your Caregiver

The Hotline

Supporting Survivors with Disabilities: When Your Abusive Partner is Also Your Caregiver

By Marilyn, a Hotline advocate

disabilities and caretakersHere at The Hotline, we know that abuse occurs in intimate partner relationships when one person tries to maintain power and control over their partner. When a person depends on their partner for any form of caretaking, there may be an additional risk for abuse because of a power imbalance. People with disabilities often experience higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse, and the impact of abuse may compound the disability.

When abusive partners are also caregivers, they may try to gain control in different ways:

  • They might try to gain power of attorney or legal conservator. Sometimes abusive partners will try to take this role in order to control different disability benefits, such as social security disability insurance or supplemental security income.
  • They might try to withhold medication or give out the wrong amount of medication.
  • They might attempt to isolate their partner from friends, family or healthcare providers. For instance, the abusive partner may interpret for their partner or take control of assistive devices/talking computer.
  • They might keep mobility or breathing devices out of reach.
  • They may prevent their partner from speaking with a doctor in private.
  • They might refuse to provide assistance with essential personal needs (bathing, toilet, eating, etc).
  • They might be emotionally abusive about their partner’s disability or health status by engaging in disability related shaming and humiliation.

If your partner is also your caregiver in any capacity, you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at all times. You deserve to have self-determination over your care and to live a life free of abuse. If you or someone you care about is being abused by their partner and caregiver, there are steps you can take to seek support.

  • Consider contacting Adult Protective Services. Adult Protective Services is a social services program that operates nationwide to serve seniors and adults with disabilities who are in need of assistance. Note for friends and family: a survivor always has the right to decline these services.
  • Try to locate another caregiver to receive additional support. Since abuse often thrives in isolation, social support can be a vital part of safety planning. Consider reaching out to neighbors, friends and family who might be supportive.
  • Some survivors are eligible for financial assistance that will make health insurance much more affordable. According to Futures Without Violence, as of April 29, 2015, survivors of domestic violence may apply for health insurance through healthcare.gov at any time. They do not need to wait for Open Enrollment. This new policy allows survivors of domestic violence to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period instead of the short window of time during Open Enrollment.
  • Employers may provide resources and support to survivors with disabilities. Click here for more information about how employers can support and promote inclusive policies for domestic violence survivors in the workplace.
  • Contact nearby shelters to ensure they are able to support survivors with disabilities (i.e. do they admit people with disabilities, provide reasonable accommodations, eliminate structural barriers to access, etc.)

At The Hotline, we are committed to serving all survivors of abuse. You always have the right to feel safe and supported in your relationship. You know your situation best, and you have the right to make decisions that are safest for you. If you would like to speak with an advocate about developing a personalized safety plan or finding resources that meet your needs, please call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.  

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