Dealing with domestic violence is hard for everyone. But the deaf and hard of hearing face unique challenges others don’t even think about—challenges which make leaving all the more difficult.
The deaf and hard of hearing experience the same types of abuse others do—physical, sexual, financial, emotional and spiritual—but, they experience it at a rate 1.5 times higher than the hearing population.
“The reasons for the abuse are the same as with hearing people,” says Morgan Breese, an advocate at Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS), which partners with the National Domestic Violence Hotline to provide video phone calls, instant messages and emails service for the non-hearing. “But this is a population that already tends to be oppressed and so abuse rates are higher.”
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Those who are deaf also are subject to unique forms of abuse that hearing people aren’t. Isolation is one tactic abusers can easily inflict on their partners.
“Sometimes abusers will disconnect the video phone or Wi-Fi so their partners are not able to communicate with people,” Breese says. “Abusers will keep friends and family members away by blocking accessibility to communication.”
Financial abuse is also prevalent, as many who are deaf receive supplemental security income (SSI) from the government. Abusers will often take control of the checks.
“Financial abuse is a huge problem among the deaf population,” Breese says. “The abuser will take the SSI and, in some cases, still make them go to work. Or, they’ll limit access to transportation so they can’t work.”
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The nonprofit DeafHope says the following are other tactics abusers may use to exert power and control over their deaf partners:
- Intimidation through gestures, facial expressions or exaggerated signs, floor stomping and pounding on the table or door
- Signing very close to a survivor’s face when angry
- Criticizing a survivor’s sign language skills or communication style
- Not informing the survivor when people try to call on the phone or are trying to get their attention
- Excluding the survivor from important conversations
- Leaving the survivor out of social situations with hearing people
- Talking negatively about the deaf community
- Wrongly interpreting to manipulate the situation if the police are called
- Not allowing children to use sign language to talk with the survivor
Unique Barriers to Leaving
Deaf people also may have a harder time reporting abuse and getting help when they want to leave an abuser because of communication challenges.
“One example of this is if they call the police and the police come,” says AJ Williams, community engagement coordinator and prevention specialist at ADWAS. “Who’s going to interpret for the survivor? The abuser. So the police are only going to hear one side of the story.”
Connecting deaf survivors with domestic abuse resources is also more difficult for the deaf than the hearing population. “You can’t just give them a phone number to a shelter,” Breese says. “You have to ensure the proper services are available and remember that English is their second language.”
A query of the DomesticShelters.org database shows that sign language is the third most common language provided by shelters in the U.S. behind English and Spanish, however it is only available at 5.3 percent of shelters.
While shelters are supposed to be able to accommodate all needs, in reality, some do it better than others as financial resources create service limitations. “It’s required that they provide an interpreter,” Breese says. “Sometimes we have to educate people and even shelters on the laws.”
However, that shouldn’t stop a person who’s deaf or hard of hearing from getting help. Deaf survivors might consider carrying a card with them to explain they are deaf and to request an interpreter. It’s also important to remember that help navigating the system is available.
“We have the hotline all across the U.S.,” Breese says. “We would find an agency in their area that can help.”
Call the Abused Deaf Advocacy Women’s Services via video phone at 206-812-1001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Advocates are available 24 hours a day and will respond within 15 minutes. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is reachable at 800-799-7233 (voice) or 800-787-3224 (TTY).
Ready to leave? Take a look at the checklist of things you’ll want to consider taking with you in “ When It’s Time to Go.”
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