WINNIPEG (CP) - - Disabled women may be up to 40 per cent more likely than other women to be abused by their partners, suggests a study by a University of Manitoba researcher.
The problem isn't always recognized by society because disabled women are often stereotyped as not having romantic relationships, said Douglas Brownridge, a professor in the department of family social sciences.
The victims also have very real fears for their physical and financial well-being if they report their partner.
"Maybe the perpetrators feel that women with disabilities are less able to resist their domineering, jealous, violent and possessive behaviours," Brownridge said Monday.
"If the women rely on their partner for help with activities, they may fear they'll have no one to provide essential care for them, or they'll have to move if they report the violence."
The peer-reviewed study was published in the September issue of the journal Violence Against Women and released to the media this week.
Brownridge looked at more than 7,000 Statistics Canada interviews conducted in 1999 as part of its General Social Survey.
The women were asked about the domestic violence they experienced in the previous five years.
They were up to twice as likely as other women to report being threatened to be hit, pushed, grabbed, shoved or slapped. They were also three times more likely to report being sexually assaulted by their partners.
Those who work with the disabled say they're not surprised by the findings.
"I think the issue is not well understood and it is below the radar screen in lots of ways," said Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator for the Council for Canadians with Disabilities.
Abused disabled women are at a greater disadvantage than other women because they don't have as many places to turn to for help. Shelters might not be wheelchair accessible, for example, or have services for the visually impaired.
"It really is about women feeling like they have alternatives and choices," said Beachell.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada has several programs in place to try to help tired and frustrated caregivers so they don't turn to violence.
Patients and caregivers are encouraged to call the organization's toll-free information line. Staff who learn about, or suspect, violence in the home are trained to refer the disabled person to police or a community agency.
For the last year, the organization has also developed a successful pilot project that pays for substitute help for a day so a full-time caregiver can relax at a spa or enjoy some free time.
"People who are looking after people with MS are sometimes under great stress, and stress is one of those factors that can precipitate violence," said spokesman Stewart Wong.
Understanding how the symptoms of the chronic disease of the central nervous system can vary from day to day can help reduce that stress, he added.
"Yesterday someone might have been able to get dressed by themselves and the next day all of a sudden they can't, so it can be very frustrating."