Disability and Violence

Disability and Violence in New Zealand

Disabled adults and children are at higher risk of experiencing family violence than non-disabled people. In 2021, two significant studies were published that made clear the high rates of violence experienced by the disabled community in New Zealand. Disabled people, regardless of impairment, reported significantly higher rates of most forms of intimate partner violence than non-disabled people.

For example, psychological abuse in a relationship was reported by 60% of disabled women and 51% of disabled men. People with at least one impairment also reported high rates of physical intimate partner violence (IPV), which was reported by 40% of women and 47% of men, and women with any impairment reported significantly higher rates of experiencing sexual IPV (16.9%) than men with any impairment (5.0%). (Fanslow, et al. (2021)

White Ribbon has long focused on raising awareness of violence and recognized the need to shine a light on the experiences of all New Zealanders. To highlight the issues, we have worked with members of the disabled community who generously decided to form a White Ribbon Disability Reference Group. We are extremely grateful to the Reference Group, who have provided vital guidance. As part of that partnership we created an infographic that highlights some of the key facts. Please feel free to download it and share it widely. We also created a campaign video with Disability Rights Commissioner, Paula Tesoriero MNZM, which we hope will improve the understanding of some of the issues facing disabled people in New Zealand.

Disabled New Zealanders:

One in four New Zealanders is Deaf or disabled. Disabled people are part of diversity, and are diverse themselves. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities explains that this “includes those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

Not all impairments are immediately apparent, such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Learning (intellectual) Disability and thinking differences such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia and many long term health conditions.

The New Zealand Disability Strategy explains that “Disability is something that happens when people with impairments face barriers in society; it is society that disables us, not our impairments, this is the thing all disabled people have in common. It is something that happens when the world we live in has been designed by people who assume that everyone is the same.”

Disabled people can be perceived to be vulnerable and “targeted” by others. No person is inherently vulnerable and a person’s impairment should not lead to the automatic assumption that the individual is vulnerable. Labelling an individual as vulnerable can be stigmatising and can lead to unfounded assumptions that she/he/they lack the ability to direct their own life.  The ‘label ‘can be misunderstood, because it locates the cause of abuse with the victim, rather than placing responsibility with the actions or omissions of others.

Prejudice and discrimination (audism) affects Deaf people as ableism affects disabled people. Deaf people should be specifically included in responses, prevention, policies and the twin track approach, and information should be available in New Zealand Sign Language.

infographic - Shining a Light on Disability & Violence - White RibbonViolence against Disabled people:

Deaf and disabled people experience violence in the same ways, and also in different ways from non-disabled people e.g., institutional abuse and neglect. Family violence towards disabled people can include impairment-specific family violence from a family member or carer, including using or withholding aides, medication or devices that support the day-to-day activities of disabled people.

Disabled women and men experience significantly higher rates of violence than non-disabled women and non-disabled men, with disabled women experiencing higher rates than men. Organisations and systems, including those specific to Deaf and disabled people, may not be safe or accessible, making it difficult for people to escape violence and abuse.

Some Deaf and disabled people are reliant on others to assist with their care and support; this creates heightened risk and entrapment if the person using violence is also their primary carer. Some adults may be unable to remove themselves from situations of violence and abuse without help and may require ‘safeguarding’. Mainstream and specialist services need to be able to identify adults at risk in order to ensure that they have the advocacy and support services that they need and remain in control of decision making about their life and supports.

Some of the findings from the studies (J. L. Fanslow, et al. 2021 and Z.A. Malihi, et al. 2021) included:

  • 40% of disabled women experienced physical intimate partner violence over their lifetimes, compared with 25% of non-disabled women.
  • Disabled women were more likely to report experiences of sexual intimate partner violence (range = 13.5%-17.1%) than disabled men (range = 4.0%-21.2%).
  • Men with intellectual impairment were more likely to report physical intimate partner violence (60.5%) than women with intellectual impairment (36.0%).
  • More disabled people reported non-partner physical and sexual violence experience than non-disabled people.
  • Women and men with psychological impairments reported the highest prevalence rates of non-partner physical and sexual violence.
  • The main perpetrators of non-partner physical violence for disabled women were parents and relatives (59.7%).
  • The main perpetrators of non-partner physical violence for disabled men were strangers (59.3%).
  • Among disabled adults, the risk of age-adjusted interpersonal violence was twice as high as the New Zealand average.
  • Disabled adults (28%) were more likely than other adults (23%) to have been subjected to sexual assault in their lifetime.
  • Disabled adults (23%) were significantly more likely than other adults (16%) to have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
  • Age-standardised data showed that 6.5% of disabled people experienced offences by family members during the previous 12 months compared with 2.1% of non-disabled people.

The research findings above highlight the need to develop and support violence prevention and response programmes that are accessible to disabled people. These programmes also need to be equipped with specialist knowledge and resources to respond to the risk of violence experienced by disabled people.

The work we have undertaken this year is a starting point in our efforts to ensure equity and inclusion in spreading the White Ribbon kaupapa and we are looking forward to building on this in the years ahead.


NZ Disability Strategy

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Fanslow, J. L., Malihi, Z. A., Hashemi, L., Gulliver, P. J., & McIntosh, T. K. (2021). Lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence and disability: results from a population-based study in New Zealand. American journal of preventive medicine, 61(3), 320-328.

Malihi, Z. A., Fanslow, J. L., Hashemi, L., Gulliver, P. J., & McIntosh, T. K. (2021). Prevalence of nonpartner physical and sexual violence against people with disabilities. American journal of preventive medicine, 61(3), 329-337.


The Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Adults Trust (PASAT) is a not-for-profit charitable trust that provides a range of safeguarding services and supports. These include Supported Decision Making support, short term advocacy and life long advocacy, training and education, and a coordinated inter-agency response for Adults at Risk. Safeguarding Adults From Abuse (SAFA) is an integrated, multi-agency approach to safeguarding Adults at Risk of harm, abuse or neglect. Their Coordinated Response ensures that an Adult at Risk remains in control of the decision making. Anyone can make a safeguarding referral when they have a concern regarding someone’s safety or situation. Please complete the PASAT SAFA referral form, available by request from safeguardingadults@PASAT.org.nz and submit to advocacy@PASAT.org.nz

This page and the infographic above have been created with the support of the White Ribbon Disability Reference Group

%d bloggers like this: