A new Channel 4 documentary has revealed that disabled people who are victims of domestic abuse often struggle to get the help and support they need from frontline services.
This is despite the fact that disabled people are at high risk of domestic abuse, with one in seven experiencing abuse from a partner, ex-partner, family member or carer, compared to one in 20 non-disabled people.
Indeed, the largest ever mapping of domestic abuse services across England and Wales found that the majority (54%) of disabled survivors (not including deaf survivors) found it “difficult” or “very difficult” to access services.
The research, which was carried out by Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales (and her team), found that despite there being over 14 million disabled people in the UK, there are only five by-and-for services providing advocacy for disabled and deaf victims of domestic abuse, and the majority of these services are based in London and the South East of England.
Ms Jacobs is now calling on the government to provide funding for the creation of dedicated services for disabled victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
Long waits for BSL interpreters
Rachel (not her real name) highlights the scale of the problem in Trapped, Disabled and Abused – Dispatches. She is deaf, and was in an abusive relationship with former partner.
One evening, Rachel’s partner (who is not deaf) assaulted her, but was able to manipulate the police into believing Rachel assaulted him. This led to Rachel being arrested and held in custody for more than 20 hours while she waited for a BSL interpreter.
As she explains: “He grabbed my neck really, really hard…. My friend had to try and get him off me, she panicked and called the police, but she is also deaf, which makes it extremely difficult to call the police as there are no services there to try and help.
“The police turned up… I was shocked because they had turned up to arrest me. My ex-partner took advantage of the situation… and called the police and twisted the story and told the police I had attacked him. They couldn’t sign at all; they didn’t know how to communicate with a deaf person.
“The police gave me information via email, but they were for mainstream hearing services – so they signposted me to services I couldn’t access. I was like – what’s the point, there isn’t any access for deaf person so it’s not worth it.”
Since Rachel’s incident, the emergency services have introduced the BSL 999 service for deaf users, but there is still work to be done.
Only a quarter of frontline staff have received specialist disability training
Dispatches interviewed more than 2,500 frontline professionals, including police staff and healthcare workers. They found that over half (52%) didn’t know which specialist service to refer a disabled person to or would refer them to one without specialist knowledge.
While around two thirds (67%) had received domestic abuse training, only a quarter (24%) had specific training around abuse against people with disabilities.
The government has pledged to provide £1.5 million for more by and for services, but it is clear that frontline staff also need more training so they are better able to communicate with disabled people.
In the programme, Ms Jacobs says it is clear that local commissioning arrangements “have not been working for disabled survivors”, and more needs to be done to ensure disabled people can access the necessary support where and when they need it.