According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Deaf and Hearing-Impaired women are 1.5 times more likely to experience domestic or sexual abuse in their lifetime. Unfortunately, increased risk of abuse is not the only obstacle that the deaf community faces when it comes to this kind of violence, because deaf people often face communication issues when reporting which can make the process even more difficult. Many police officers and other professionals lack the training to communicate effectively with deaf people or to provide sign language interpreters, and most domestic violence shelters are similarly unprepared.
Leaving a domestic violence situation is an extremely isolating experience for most people, and that feeling of isolation can be worsened if those trying to help are unable to properly communicate, which can drain motivation to leave or stay away from abusers. As we discuss in our complete Sexual Assault resource, which includes a chapter on Disability and Sexual Violence, it is especially important to build rapport with hearing impaired survivors and make eye contact when speaking rather than looking to the interpreter in order to make them feel comfortable, and should repeat the victim’s explanations back for confirmation in order to inspire confidence in the victim that they are being heard, believed, and understood.
Because of these discouraging communication issues, the Vera Institute of Justice is advocating for Translating Justice, an initiative which would help break down these communication barriers by training professionals to communicate properly with the hearing-impaired as well as persons with limited English proficiency. The Vera Institute’s guide to helping deaf survivors illustrates its own importance with the story of a deaf woman who left a domestic violence shelter, possibly to return to her abuser, leaving a note which read “I’d rather go home than be stuck here with no one I can talk to.”
The Translating Justice Initiative aims to help law enforcement receive proper training to avoid communication issues, implement policies which would better serve hearing impaired individuals, provide training for interpreters, and host conferences on serving deaf domestic and sexual violence survivors.
Refer to Sexual Assault Victimization Across the Life Span chapter 8 for more information on the unique needs of people with hearing impairments or other disabilities in Sexual Violence cases.