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National study of physical and sexual assault among women with disabilities
  1. C Casteel1,2,
  2. S L Martin2,3,
  3. J B Smith2,
  4. K K Gurka1,4,
  5. L L Kupper5
  1. 1
    Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
  2. 2
    Injury Prevention Research Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
  3. 3
    Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
  4. 4
    Department of Public Health Science, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
  5. 5
    Department of Biostatistics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
  1. Dr C Casteel, Injury Prevention Research Center, University of North Carolina, 137 E Franklin Street, Suite 500, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7505, USA; ccasteel{at}


Objective: To examine the association between the level of disability impairment and physical and sexual assault in a sample of US women at least 18 years of age.

Design, setting and participants: Retrospective longitudinal study of 6273 non-institutionalized US women from 8000 women participating in the 1995–1996 National Violence Against Women (NVAW) Survey.

Main outcome measure: Women’s experiences of physical and sexual assault in the 12 months before the NVAW interview.

Results: Most women reported having no disability (n = 5008, 79.8%) and/or not experiencing an assault in the year before their interview (n = 6018, 95.9%). Less than 5% (n = 280) reported having a disability that severely limited daily activities, and 15.7% (n = 985) reported having a disability that moderately limited activities. Less than 4% (n = 218) of the women reported a physical-only assault, and less than 1% (n = 37) reported being sexually assaulted. Women with severe disability impairments were four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women with no reported disabilities (RR = 4.0, 95% CI 1.5 to 10.6). Little difference in the risk of sexual assault was found between women with moderate disability impairments and those reporting no disabilities (RR = 1.0, 95% CI 0.3 to 2.8). Women with severe (RR = 1.6, 95% CI 0.9 to 3.0) and moderate (RR = 1.2, 95% CI 0.8 to 1.9) disability impairments were at greater risk, although not quite significantly so, of physical-only assault than were women without a disability.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that women with disabilities that severely limit activities of daily living are at increased risk of sexual assault.

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  • Funding: This study was funded in part by the University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center through a grant from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Grant No R49/CE00196-01).

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: This study is an analysis of publicly available, de-identified secondary data and does not meet the definition of research involving human subjects requiring institutional review board review.