Unique Issues Face By Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Survivors of Domestic Violence
This month’s contributor, Nicolyn Plummer is a senior social worker and coordinator of outreach and advocacy of the Deaf Services Initiative, in conjunction with Secret Garden and Freedom House to enhance accessibility in serving Deaf victims.
Sexual assault victims who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing face unique issues compared to those who are hearing when it comes to reporting the assault.
The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports that approximately one in five hearing women have been raped in their lifetime and thirteen percent of the women experienced sexual coercion at some point in their lives (Basile, Black, Breiding, Smith, Walter, Merrick & Stevens, 2011) .
Comparably, preliminary research reveals that that Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing women experience a higher rate of forced sex than hearing women (Pollard, Sutter & Cerulli, 2013).
A survey conducted in American Sign Language (ASL) in Rochester, New York, estimated twenty-one percent of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing participants were forced to have sex (Barnett et al., 2011).
Further study notes that sixty-nine percent of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing college females experience at least one type of sexual assault during her life (Elliott Smith & Pick, 2015). Due to the under-reporting of sexual assault in the D/deaf community it is difficult to determine what the exact rate of victimization is.
Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing survivors do not disclose sexual assault for several reasons including:
Stigmatization – The survivor fears negative reactions from close supports such as family and friends and from outside support service such as police, hospitals, and sexual assault programs. Some stereotypes in the community are that Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing women have a higher rate of self-doubt, inability to defend themselves, and are more likely not to be believed by law enforcement.
Attitudinal and Institutional Oppression – Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing persons can be deterred from reporting rape due to fear of retaliation, burden of proof, and the conception that they are unlikely to be treated with dignity especially with communication challenges and power dynamics. Therefore, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing sexual assault survivors exhibit a high level of isolation and often encounter systematic barriers.
Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals not having an opportunity to proceed with a healthy disclosure can endure a long term psychological scar. Both internal and external support from professionals and non-professionals is crucial to a Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing survivors’ recovery from sexual traumatization, so they can begin their healing journey.
At Barrier Free Living’s Secret Garden community based domestic violence program and Freedom House domestic violence emergency shelter our staff is comprised of licensed Social Workers, Mental Health Counselors, and Case Managers. The team is trained in trauma informed care, and also on how to assist someone if they decide to disclose their assault.
Our team believes that it is important to be a non-judgmental, attentive listener, to be present with a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing survivor and to assure them they are safe while allowing them to express their sexual assault on their own terms.
Barrier Free Living’s Deaf Services Team offers counseling, case management, advocacy, and support groups.
To contact our Deaf Services Team: VP 646-807-4013 or [email protected]
If you encounter any form of sexual assault, immediately call 911, go to a nearby hospital and police precinct. Travel safely and stay safe.
Read more stories about domestic violence and disabilities here.
*Sexual assault is an act of a person touching another person without consent; a person physically forcing a person to engage in a sexual act against their will. In addition, sexual violence is another form of sexual assault which includes forced vaginal, anal, oral penetration, groping, drug facilitated, child sexual abuse as well as torture of the person in a sexual manner.