Double vulnerability

There are various circumstances that can make abuse victims even more vulnerable. Different people have different life situations that may make it harder to leave an abusive partner or seek or even get help to change their situation. For example, drug/alcohol abuse, varying degrees of disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity could put someone more at-risk. This increased vulnerability can include both the violence itself as well as what options the person has when it comes to seeking help and how the person is treated by society. For example, being old, having a disability or being transgendered is not the norm in our society, and people who break norms may be more vulnerable since our society is adapted to the norm.

It may be important to identify extra vulnerability of a person, but it is also important to not group people into categories and associate that category with a particular set of experiences and circumstances. For example, people living with an alcohol or drug addiction do not all have the same life situations, experiences and circumstances. It is also good to bear in mind that a person may be outside the norm in more than one way. A person can be old and have an addiction or a person may be of an ethnicity that is not the norm in their community while at the same time being homosexual and having some type of impairment or disability.

Gender
Being a woman creates added vulnerability in different ways. For example, women are victims of gender-based violence and oppression. A person’s gender may also affect how they are treated when contacting authorities and healthcare professionals, for example. Norms and beliefs about gender cause people to be ascribed different characteristics based on their gender. Such beliefs impact how we view and treat a person. Both women and men can experience discrimination because of their gender.

For abused women, beliefs about gender may impact how she is treated by those around her. For example, a man being drunk is considered mitigating circumstances and is thought to reduce the man’s responsibility for his actions. At the same time, a drunk woman is considered responsible for any abuse she receives. Another example is how people view the role of mothers and fathers when it comes to parenthood. Mothers are usually expected to take care of everything related to the child, including the child’s contact with their father, while the father is considered a good parent simply by spending time with his child or picking the child up at preschool. Beliefs about gender can thus affect a woman’s ability to obtain adequate help in dealing with abuse of any kind.

Addiction
Having an addiction can create added vulnerability in different ways. Research shows that women who abuse drugs or alcohol are more at-risk of being abused than those without an addiction. Women with an addiction are at the same risk of being abused by their partner as other women, but studies show that women with an addiction are more likely to suffer abuse from other people/men, such as healthcare professionals, police and the general public. Women with an addiction may also live in a socially vulnerable situation and thereby be at-risk of experiencing more violence by a larger number of people. Women with an addiction may also have more trouble getting away from a violent partner due to their social vulnerability and dependence on their partner, for example. A male partner may also provide protection against violence by other men. It may also be difficult for a female addict to get help with the abuse since the abuse is often overshadowed by the addiction. There is a risk of the abuse being explained away or “excused” because of the woman’s addiction. Because the abuse is ignored and focus is instead put on the addiction, the woman might not get the help she needs and the support she is entitled to. The vulnerability to abuse may also make it harder for the woman to get clean and sober.

Disability
Having a disability or impairment can create added vulnerability in different ways. Women with a disability or impairment are just as likely as other women to experience intimate partner violence. Studies show that women with a disability are more at-risk than other women to being abused by other people in their surroundings in some way, such as professionals or family members. There are many different types of disabilities, and the way they make a woman vulnerable may different. It is common for a partner to take advantage of the woman’s disability when being abusive. For example, the partner may move the furniture so a woman who is visually impaired cannot find her way around the house. The partner may also be abusive by refusing to help with care the woman might need, such as help using the toilet, help with hygiene, and help getting food or medicines. Having a disability may make it harder for the abusive victim to seek support from those around her or from authorities. This may because the person has poor access to information or the person has difficulty expressing their needs. They may also be very dependent on their partner, which makes it more difficult to leave the relationship.

Age
Intimate partner violence doesn’t stop just because the abuser or the victim reaches a certain age. Older women can be in an abusive relationship just like younger women can. Many older women have been abused throughout their entire marriage. Intimate partner violence has long been considered a private matter and almost taboo to talk about. This may make it more difficult for older women to seek help and support in dealing with their situation. Being physically ill or having dementia can make them even more vulnerable. Poor access to information can be another factor that prevents many older women from seeking support. Older women are not just vulnerable to abuse from their partner. They might also be abused by adult children or other people they are in close contact with.

Transidentity and non-heterosexuality
Abuse can occur in any close relationship, regardless of the gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation of the abuser or the victim. Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that deviates from the norm could make the person even more vulnerable. For example, it may be hard to need to come out or educate the staff of an authority about gender identity, for example, when the person turns to an authority for support and help in their abusive situation. Fear of how others will treat them and the prejudices and ignorance of others may cause a person with a non-standard gender identity or sexual orientation to not seek help.

Ethnicity
Having an ethnicity that is not considered the norm in Sweden can create added vulnerability in different ways, with the individual experiencing discrimination based on their ethnicity. There are also several circumstances linked to ethnicity that may make a person more vulnerable, such as not being able to speak Swedish, not knowing their rights, or not having a residence permit. Being poorly treated or not having access to information, and thus not having access to available support, can make it more difficult to leave an abusive relationship, for example.

The social and cultural context in which a person lives can also make them more vulnerable. Social norms related to factors such as violence against women, families and marriage can result in a woman not having the support of her family and friends or being pressured or told what she “should” do to a higher degree. This can make it more difficult for the women to leave a relationship or seek help for her situation.