Written by Betsy Abraham, Community Support Services
Escaping a domestic violence relationship is never easy. But, it’s even harder when you can’t communicate with police officers or have to rely on your abuser to translate for you. This is the challenge many Deaf, Deafblind, and hard-of-hearing people face.
There aren’t many studies on domestic violence in the Deaf, Deafblind, and heard-of-hearing community. But one report shows they were 1.5 times more likely to be victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, psychological abuse, and physical abuse. The Justice for Deaf Victims National Coalition says over 60% of Deaf individuals have experienced, or will experience, abuse by a partner in their lifetime. That’s a pretty astounding percentage.
So how does this abuse look different than in the hearing community? How can we help? Let’s dive in.
What Manipulation and Abuse Look Like
In many ways, abuse looks like it does in the hearing community. Abusers may isolate their victims or belittle them. They may take away their money or social security checks, hit them, or force them to engage in sexual activity. But Deaf people are vulnerable to other kinds of abuse when their abusers take advantage of “hearing privilege.” What does that look like? Abusers could intentionally misinterpret in social settings. Or, if police are called to the home, abusers may manipulate the interpreting process. They might also damage or destroy their partners’ communications equipment or assistive devices, refuse to use sign language, or abuse hearing dogs.
Deaf people are also vulnerable to specific kinds of physical abuse. Abusive partners may attack their victim’s ears to hurt them. Abusers might hurt their hands to prevent signing, or their eyes to restrict their sight and isolate them even more. They might even excuse violence as being “culturally appropriate” in the Deaf community. This could look like throwing an object at someone and saying it was to get the victim’s attention. They may use intimidating body language and explain it away as normal American Sign Language (ASL).
Domestic Violence Resources for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
It can be difficult for Deaf people to find the right resources. Sometimes it’s as simple as not knowing where to get the help they need. It can also be hard to explain their abuse to police officers if there aren’t enough interpretation services at shelters, courts, and hotlines. Unfortunately, even people trained to help survivors don’t always know about the specific needs or culture of Deaf people. The Deaf community can also be very tight-knit, which can make getting help with safety planning even harder.
There is some good news! At Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, we have interpretation services for Deaf and hard of hearing clients. The Deaf Hotline is another safe option that protects privacy for Deaf survivors and service providers. Reach them by videophone at 1-855-812-1001 or by email.
Want to learn more? Check out these helpful resources on domestic violence in the Deaf community: