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October 14, 2022

A press release:

One in 12 blind and partially sighted people experience domestic violence according to new Vision Foundation research

Esme never knew when her ex-husband was following her. He could be right behind her, the unseen stalker who frightened her children and brought back memories of years of domestic abuse. “My children were scared,” she explains. “‘You can’t take us to school Mum because you can’t protect us,’ my daughter said. ‘You’re blind.’”

Esme is one of 188,000 blind and partially sighted men and women in the UK who are victims or survivors of domestic abuse, according to shocking a new report, The Unseen, published this week by sight loss charity, the Vision Foundation.

The findings have been made public this week to coincide with World Sight Day, Thursday 13 October 2022.

Esme is one of dozens of people with vision impairment who took part in research carried out by the domestic abuse charity SafeLives, for the Vision Foundation, to establish the scale and prevalence of this particularly insidious abuse, which so far has only been anecdotal.

“Until now there were no data, discussions or dedicated services addressing this issue in the sight loss community, one of the most excluded sectors of society,” explains Vision Foundation chief executive Olivia Curno. “We suspected but we couldn’t prove it. Now we have the evidence.”

Victims and survivors spoke of how perpetrators would exploit their disability by moving objects to create trip hazards, hiding medication, white sticks and mobile phones. They would follow victims without their knowledge and insist on staying in the room during hospital visits, thus preventing them from being able to disclose abuse. There were many reports of gaslighting, physical attacks and enforced isolation from friends and families. 

Participants in the research described how difficult it is to get help. Some are simply not believed, or encouraged to stay in an abusive relationship by friends and family. Many feared having to move to a new and unfamiliar area or their children being taken away.

The research found a serious gap between need and specific help available among organisations and professionals working in the field of sight loss. Domestic abuse services, police, health, housing and education professionals often don’t understand the specific needs of someone with vision impairment and how to access appropriate support on their behalf.

“Our team found a stark contrast between the lack of information on domestic abuse in relation to blind and partially sighted people and the very high number of people with personal experience who wanted to take part in this research. Their experiences confirm the urgent need for action. says Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of SafeLives.

“Some simple measures could make a huge difference,” says Olivia Curno. “For example, if hospital appointments were conducted one-to-one and prefaced with the question, ‘Are you safe at home?’, this would be an effective way of safe disclosure. A useful first step.”

Other measures include targeted and tailored training, domestic abuse champions for visual impairment organisations, a ‘survivors’ network’ to share experiences and a ‘toolkit’ for practitioners with a quick guide to support.

Key to this is a funding mechanism to enable organisations to drive change and a special domestic abuse round of the Vision Foundation’s Vision Fund will be launched in the coming weeks.

With the right support, survivors have inspiring stories to tell of being able to move onto happy and fulfilling lives. Last word goes to Esme, now living free of abuse for two years, “I’m now much more confident, I have found my voice. I’m now not afraid to speak out, I’m happy as a single parent with disabilities.” Esme attributes the newfound confidence to Dance Dosti, an organisation which offers accessible dance sessions to visually impaired people and has received Vision Foundation funding. She’s now also a social media cook with many thousands of followers.

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