Disabled at greater risk of violence and subsequent mental ill-health

People with disabilities were up to three times more likely to be a victim of violence last year.

University College London

University College London

According to research by Dr Hind Khalifeh, University College London (UCL) Brain Sciences, with colleagues from UCL and King’s College London, published this week in the open access journal PLOS ONE, people with disabilities are at a greater risk of being the victims of violence and of suffering mental ill health when victimised.

The study is the first to assess the extent to which people with disabilities experience different kinds of violence and the associated health and economic costs.

The authors analysed data from the 2009-2010 British Crime Survey to estimate the odds of a person with physical or mental disabilities experiencing physical, sexual, domestic or non-domestic violence. The survey did not include individuals with disabilities living in institutions.

On the whole, the authors found that, compared to those without any disability, the odds of being a victim of violence in the past year were three times higher for those with a mental illness-related disability, and two times higher for those with a physical disability. The odds were similarly raised for physical and sexual violence, and for domestic and non-domestic violence.

“If the risk for people with disability could be brought down to the same level as for those without disability there would be around 116,000 fewer disabled victims annually.”

Dr Hind Khalifeh, UCL Brain Sciences

The analysis also revealed that victims with disability were twice as likely to experience emotional difficulties following violence than non-disabled victims.

“Our research shows the risks and consequences of domestic and non-domestic violence are raised in people with disability,” says Dr Khalifeh. “This is most pronounced for people with mental illness, with one in five experiencing violence in the past year.”

Across England and Wales in 2009, approximately 224,000 people with disabilities experienced violence.

“We estimate that if the risk for people with disability could be brought down to the same level as for those without disability (from a similar social and demographic profile), there would be around 116,000 fewer disabled victims annually,” continues Dr Khalifeh. “This would result in an estimated annual saving of £1.51 billion.”

The authors state that, overall, the prevalence and risk of violence they estimated in their study is consistent with reports from other countries such as the US and Taiwan.

According to the authors, the research highlights the need for clinicians to be aware of the greater risks of domestic and non-domestic violence among patients with all disability types, and of the increased risk of emotional difficulties among disabled victims.

The study concludes: “Future research should evaluate the effectiveness of violence prevention programmes in people with disability that address risk factors specific to this group, such as care-giver stress or communication barriers to disclosure.”

The research team would like to acknowledge the Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, BMRB Social Research, UK Data Archive and Crown Copyright. The above parties bear no responsibility for the analysis or interpretation of British Crime Survey data presented in this study.