The Unseen: Blind and partially sighted people’s experiences of domestic abuse
One in 12 visually impaired people in the UK is believed to be a victim or survivor of domestic abuse, meaning that 188,000 of the 2.19 million blind and partially sighted people living in this country have experience of domestic abuse.
We were commissioned by the Vision Foundation to undertake the first ever research into the scale and nature of domestic abuse among this particularly vulnerable sector of the population. Although data shows that people with a disability are nearly three times more likely to have experienced domestic abuse than non-disabled people, until now there has been no specific research into the impact on the sight loss community.
- Blind and partially sighted victims and survivors experience many of the same abusive behaviours as fully sighted people, but they also face additional forms of abuse such as the perpetrator moving things around the house so that the victim or survivor trips or is unable to find items they need, or withholding support like sighted guiding or accessible equipment.
- Those with a visual impairment might have a dependence on individuals for support, which may include the person perpetrating the abuse. This can result in complex risk-benefit negotiations for victim and survivors. Victims described being encouraged to stay with their carer-perpetrator by professionals and family members.
- It is difficult for blind and partially sighted people to access information on domestic abuse and domestic abuse services aimed at the general public since much of this information is in printed format or on inaccessible websites.
- Participants found that, in general, formal services including domestic abuse services, the police, GPs and housing services usually did not understand their visual impairment and did not take their visual impairment into account when supporting them.
- Professionals talking to a visually impaired person’s carer rather than to the visually impaired person themselves can increase the risk of and exacerbate abuse. Lack of accessibility and confidentiality are major barriers to visually impaired victims seeking help.
- Professionals do not report a good understanding of the types of abuse, perpetrator tactics and needs of survivors with a visual impairment.
- Accessing support is particularly difficult for visually impaired victims and survivors who are male, Black and/or from cultures that are minoritised in the UK owing to social prejudices and a lack of professional understanding and specialised support, which compounds with the lack of support for blind and partially sighted victims and survivors.
- Viewing visually impaired people through the medical rather than the social model of disability means that professional services have a preconceived idea that blind and partially sighted people always depend on others which may prevent them from recognising abusive behaviours or supporting a victim to leave an abusive relationship.
The Vision Foundation and SafeLives are calling for a multi-faceted and united response including:
- Training programmes for individuals and organisations working with people with visual impairment
- Domestic abuse champions for visual impairment organisations
- A ‘survivors’ network’ to share experiences and help shape future research
- Readily accessible and locatable information for those with visual impairment
- Safe ways for people to disclose abuse one-to-one
- Awareness campaigns on how to recognise abuse and seek help
- A funding mechanism to enable organisations to implement change
- A visual impairment ‘toolkit’ for practitioners with a quick guide to support