The Experience of Verbal Abuse for Women with Disabilities

Tuesday, 14 July 2009: 8:50 AM

Linda Carman Copel, PhD, RN, PMHCNS, BC, FAPA
College of Nursing, Villanova University, Villanova, PA

Learning Objective 1: describe the verbal abuse experienced by women with disabilities who are in abusive relationships.

Learning Objective 2: discuss a proposed model which explains the experience of verbal abuse for women with disabilities.


The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of verbal abuse endured by women with disabilities (WWD).  A phenomenological approach was utilized to address the research question: What is the lived experience of verbal abuse for WWD?  The research objectives were: (1) describe the experience of verbal abuse by WWD, (2) determine if verbal abuse was an antecedent to additional abuse, and (3) construct a model explaining the experience of verbal abuse for WWD.


This study used a qualitative research design to address verbal abuse as experienced by WWD. The population was physically disabled women who experienced verbal abuse from an intimate partner within the past two years. A convenience sample of 24 women was recruited from support groups who met in a community agency. After informed consent was obtained, participants were interviewed and audio-recorded. Transcripts were analyzed using Colaizzi's method.  All participants confirmed the transcripts and study results.


Findings included a description of the abuse experience. Six themes, accusatory comments, defensiveness, verbal or nonverbal responses, collision of words, escalation, and violent outbursts were identified. The women shared their abuse experiences and validated the proposed model.


Each woman described verbal abuse as a precursor to other types of intimate partner violence (IPV). Further research is necessary to support the model and determine its educational and clinical significance. After additional validation, the model may be used to educate healthcare providers, women with disabilities, and their partners about verbal abuse as a significant health risk affecting the well-being of physically disabled women.