Trauma-Informed Social Work Practice with Women with Disabilities: Working with Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

Michelle S. Ballan, Molly Freyer


Women with disabilities experience intimate partner violence (IPV) at higher rates than both nondisabled women and men, and men with disabilities. Their significant exposure to IPV suggests notable levels of trauma-related symptomology. However, there is a dearth of research on trauma and IPV among women with disabilities, and services tailored to their diverse strengths and needs are scarce. Guided by critical disability theory and feminist disability theory, this article describes culturally sensitive, trauma- informed approaches to practice with female survivors of IPV with disabilities. 


Intimate partner violence; women with disabilities; trauma-informed practice

Full Text:



Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) P.L. 101-336 (1990).

Anderson, M. L., & Najavits, L. M. (2014). Does seeking safety reduce PTSD symptoms in women receiving physical disability compensation? Rehabilitation Psychology, 59(3), 349-353. doi:

Asch, A., & Fine, M. (1988). Introduction: Beyond pedestals. In A. Asch & M. Fine (Eds.), Women with disabilities: Essays in psychology, culture, and politics (pp. 1-32). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Ballan, M. S., Burke Freyer, M., Marti, C. N., Perkel, J., Webb, K. A., & Romanelli, M. (2014). Looking beyond prevalence: A demographic profile of survivors of intimate partner violence with disabilities. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(17), 3167-3179. doi:

Ballan, M. S., Burke Freyer, M., & Powledge, L. (2015). Intimate partner violence among men with disabilities: The role of health care providers. American Journal of Men's Health, 11(5), 1436-1443. Advance online publication. doi:

Ballan, M. S., Burke Freyer, M., Powledge, L., & Marti, C. N. (2016). Intimate partner violence among help-seeking Deaf women: An empirical study. Violence Against Women. doi:

Barranti, C. C. R., & Yuen, K.O. (2008). Intimate partner violence and women with disabilities: Toward bringing visibility to an unrecognized population. Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation, 7(2), 115-130. doi:

Breiding, M. J., & Armour, B. S. (2015). The association between disability and intimate partner violence in the United States. Annals of Epidemiology, 25, 455-457. doi:

Brownridge, D. A. (2006). Partner violence against women with disabilities: Prevalence, risk, and explanations. Violence Against Women, 12(9), 805-822. doi:

Chang, J. C., Martin, S. L., Moracco, K. E., Dulli, L., Scandlin, D., Loucks-Sorrel, M. B,…Bou-Saada, I. (2003). Helping women with disabilities and domestic violence: Strategies, limitations, and challenges of domestic violence programs and services. Journal of Women’s Health, 12(7), 699-708. doi:

Copel, L. C. (2006). Partner abuse in physically disabled women: A proposed model for understanding intimate partner violence. Psychiatric Care, 42(2), 114-129. doi:

Cramer, E. P, Gilson, S. F., & DePoy, E. (2003). Women with disabilities and experiences of abuse. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 7(3-4), 183-199. doi:

Curry, M. A., Renker, P., Hughes, R. B., Robinson-Whelen, S., Oschwald, M., Swank, P. R., & Powers, L. E. (2009). Development of measures of abuse among women with disabilities and the characteristics of their perpetrators. Violence Against Women, 15(9), 1001-1025. doi:

Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000, P.L. 106-402 (2000).

Devries, K. M., Mak, J. Y., Bacchus, L. J., Child, J. C., Falder, G., Petzold, M., ... Watts, C. H. (2013). Intimate partner violence and incident depressive symptoms and suicide attempts: A systematic review of longitudinal studies. PLoS Med, 10(5), e1001439. doi:

Dillon, G., Hussain, R., Loxton, D., & Rahman, S. (2013). Mental and physical health and intimate partner violence against women: A review of the literature. International Journal of Family Medicine, 2013, 1-15. doi:

Douglas, E. M., & Hines, D. A. (2011). The helpseeking experiences of men who

sustain intimate partner violence: An overlooked population. Journal of

Family Violence, 26(6), 473-485.

Elliott, D. E., Bjelajac, P., Fallot, R. D., Markoff, L. S., & Reed, B. G. (2005). Trauma‐informed or trauma‐denied: Principles and implementation of trauma‐informed services for women. Journal of Community Psychology, 33(4), 461-477. doi:

Fallot, R., & Harris, M. (2009). Creating cultures of trauma-informed care (CCTIC): A self-assessment and planning protocol. University of Iowa: Community Connections. Retrieved from:

Frantz, B. L., Carey, A. C., & Nelson-Bryen, D. (2006). Accessibility of Pennsylvania’s victim assistance programs. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 16, 209-219. doi:

Garland-Thomson, R. (2002). Integrating disability, transforming feminist theory. NWSA Journal, 14(3), 1-32. doi:

Ghandour, R. M., Campbell, J. C., & Lloyd, J. (2015). Screening and counseling for intimate partner violence: A vision for the future. Journal of Women's Health, 24(1), 57-61. doi:

Hahn, J. W., McCormick, M. C., Silverman, J. G., Robinson, E. B., & Koenen, K. C. (2014). Examining the impact of disability status on intimate partner violence victimization in a population sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(17), 3063-3085. doi:

Harrell, E. (2015). Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009-2013 – Statistical Tables. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Harris, M., & Fallot, R. D. (2001). Envisioning a trauma-informed service system: A vital paradigm shift using trauma theory to design service systems. New Directions for Mental Health Services, 89, 11-12.

Hassouneh-Philips, D., & McNeff, E. (2005). ‘I thought I was less worthy’: Low sexual and body esteem and increased vulnerability to intimate partner abuse in women with physical disabilities. Sexuality and Disability, 23(4), 227-240. doi:

Hassouneh-Philips, D., McNeff, E., Powers, L., & Curry, M. A. (2005). Invalidation: A central process underlying maltreatment of women with disabilities. Women and Health, 41(1), 33-50. doi:

Hoog, C. (2004). Model protocol on safety planning for domestic violence victims with disabilities. Seattle, WA: Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Hughes, R. B., Lund, E. M., Gabrielli, J., Powers, L. E., & Curry, M. A. (2011). Prevalence of interpersonal violence against community-living adults with disabilities: A literature review. Rehabilitation Psychology, 56(4), 302-319. doi:

Khalifeh, H., Oram, S., Trevillion, K., Johnson, M., & Howard, L.M. (2015). Recent

intimate partner violence among people with chronic mental illness: Findings from a

national cross-sectional survey. British Journal of Psychiatry, 207(3), 207-212. doi:


Lund, E. M. (2011). Community-based services and interventions for adults with disabilities who have experienced interpersonal violence: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 12(4), 171-182. doi:

Martin, S. L., Ray, N., Sotres-Alvarez, D., Kupper, L. L., Moracco, K. E., Dickens, P. A., …Gizlice, Z. (2006). Physical and sexual assault of women with disabilities. Violence Against Women, 12(9), 823-837. doi:

Mays, J. M. (2006). Feminist disability theory: Domestic violence against women with disability. Disability & Society, 21(2), 147-158. doi:

Mikton, C., Maguire, H., & Shakespeare, T. (2014). A systematic review of the effectiveness of interventions to prevent and respond to violence against persons with disabilities. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(17), 3207-3226. doi:

National Network to End Domestic Violence. (2016). Domestic violence counts 2015: A 24-hour census of domestic violence shelters and services. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Nosek, M. A., Howland, C., Rintala, D. H., Young, M. E., & Chanpong, G. F. (2001). National study of women with physical disabilities: Final report. Sexuality and Disability, 19(1), 5-39. doi:

Ortoleva, S., & Lewis, H. (2012). Forgotten sisters – a report on violence against women with disabilities: An overview of its nature, scope, causes, and consequences. (Northeastern Public Law and Theory Faculty Research Papers Series No. 104-2012). Retrieved from

Plummer, S. B., & Findley, P. A. (2012). Women with disabilities’ experience with physical and sexual abuse: Review of the literature and implications for the field. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 13(1), 15-29. doi:

Quiros, L., & Berger, R. (2015). Responding to the sociopolitical complexity of trauma: An integration of theory and practice. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 20(2), 149-159. doi:

Shakespeare, T. (2014). Disability rights and wrongs revisited (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Strauser, D. R., Lustig, D. C., & Uruk, A. C. (2007). Differences in self-reported trauma symptomatology between individuals with and without disability: An exploratory analysis. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 50(4), 216-225. doi:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2015). Trauma-informed approach and trauma-specific interventions. Retrieved from

Taft, C. T., Murphy, C. M., & Creech, S. K. (2016). Introduction. In C. T. Taft, C. M. Murphy & S. K. Creech (Eds.), Trauma-informed treatment and prevention of intimate partner violence (pp. 3-12). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. doi:

Weissbecker, I., & Clark, C. (2007). The impact of violence and abuse on women's physical health: Can trauma‐informed treatment make a difference? Journal of Community Psychology, 35(7), 909-923. doi:

World Health Organization. (2011). World report on disability. Malta: Author. Retrieved from


Copyright (c) 2017 Michelle Ballan, Molly Freyer


Indiana University School of Social Work
902 West New York Street
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, 46202
Voice: 317.274.6705
FAX: 317.274.8630
TDD/TTY: 317.278-2050