One in 12 visually impaired people in the UK either a ‘victim or survivor of domestic abuse’

A Vision Foundation report has outlined the true scale of domestic abuse faced by blind and partially sighted people

person looking out of window
Getty/Roos Koole

A newly released report from the Vision Foundation has revealed that one in 12 visually impaired people in the UK is either a victim or a survivor of domestic abuse.

This accounts for 188,000 of the country’s 2.19 million blind and partially sighted people.

The sight loss charity’s The Unseen: Blind and partially sighted people’s experiences of domestic abuse report, published today (10 October), details how those with sight loss are at particular risk of abuse both within the home and from intimate partners.

Participants described abusers moving objects in order to cause falls, hiding their medication, withholding support such as guiding equipment, not taking them to appointments, and watching and/or filming them without their knowledge.

Participants also outlined the fear that comes with not knowing where a blow or object might come from, or whether their children were being harmed in front of them.

The Vision Foundation noted that common abusive behaviours were often paired with the ‘specific vulnerabilities that can come with sight loss.’

Both men and women are affected, the charity said.

The report also highlights severe gaps in support when blind and partially sighted people seek to escape the abuse they are experiencing, noting a ‘lack of relevant knowledge and experience among organisations and professionals working in both the fields of sight loss and domestic abuse.’

Many participants said that they were not believed by friends or family, or encouraged to stay within their abusive relationships due to fears of lack of support outside it.

When professional support was sought out disclosures were reportedly dismissed, and sometimes details were disclosed to the perpetrator of the abuse. Professionals are also noted as sometimes encouraging victims to stay in their relationships.

The researchers also spoke to professionals themselves, who ‘identified a concerning lack of awareness of the accessibility options available to blind and partially sighted people,’ the Vision Foundation said.

Barriers including a lack of accessible information and professionals not understanding the specific needs of those with visual impairments or how to access appropriate support on their behalf were also identified.

The research was commissioned by the Vision Foundation and carried out by domestic abuse charity SafeLives in late 2021.

It included a literature review from the last 20 years, interviews and focus groups with 78 blind or partially sighted people in the UK, and a survey of 72 practitioners working in sight loss, domestic abuse, or other professions associated with this issue, including GPs, health and social services, and police.

It is the first time specific research into the impact of domestic abuse on blind and partially sighted people in the UK has been carried out.

Previous research has found that people with a disability are nearly three times more likely than non-disabled people to have experienced domestic abuse.

Olivia Curno, chief executive of the Vision Foundation, emphasised that the outcome of the research is “devastating to read” and “far worse than we had anticipated.”

Curno said: “We were aware of the high risk of domestic abuse that disabled people face, but heard only occasional, anecdotal accounts of visually impaired victims from our partner organisations. We could find no targeted services and a total dearth of research.”

She added that before this report “nothing existed which recorded the experiences of visually impaired victims and survivors of domestic abuse, nor the myriad barriers they face in getting support. We were shocked by what the research uncovered.”

In light of the report the Vision Foundation and SafeLives are calling for a multi-faceted and united response, which includes:

  • Training programmes for individuals and organisations working with people with visual impairment
  • Domestic abuse champions for visual impairment organisations
  • A ‘survivors’ network’ to share experiences and help shape future research
  • Readily accessible and locatable information for those with visual impairments
  • Safe ways for people to disclose abuse to professionals one-to-one
  • Awareness campaigns on how to recognise abuse and seek help
  • A funding mechanism to enable organisations to implement change
  • A visual impairment ‘toolkit’ for practitioners with a quick guide to support.

The Vision Foundation will launch a funding round in the coming weeks so that organisations can apply for grants to deliver this work. Details on the funding round will be published on the Vision Foundation’s social media pages and on its website.

Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of SafeLives, said: “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, significantly raising our expectations for people who are visually impaired.”

The Unseen: Blind and partially sighted people’s experiences of domestic abuse is available in pdf and plain text via the Vision Foundation and SafeLives.