Domestic Violence has always been a problem in the Deaf community. For many years it has been a hidden problem, secret and taboo. It happened behind closed doors. It was treated as a private matter between two people and the community should not get involved.
We know now that we cannot afford to let it stay private. It is everyone’s business. We must all be a part of the solution. Domestic Violence is a community problem that requires a community solution.
For almost 25 years, Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services, ADWAS, has worked with Deaf victims and survivors, and we have learned that domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere. It ignores gender, race, class, sexual orientation, educational background, ability, borders, religion, and any other kind of label.
We also know that Domestic Violence is not just physical. It can include emotional, financial, spiritual and many other forms of power and control.
What can you do if someone you care about is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault? Listen. Believe them. Tell them it is not their fault. Respect and judge their decisions. Remember that they are the experts of their experience and know their situation the best. Offer them resources and encourage them to talk to a domestic violence or sexual assault advocate.
What can you do if you experience domestic violence or sexual assault? Tell someone. Keep telling someone until they believe you. Know that it is not your fault and you are not alone. Get help. Talk to a local domestic violence or sexual assault agency. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline and ask if there is a Deaf domestic violence or sexual assault program near you.
What can our community do?
Talk about it. By discussing the problem, we send a powerful message that we know it is going on and it will no longer be tolerated.
Don’t blame victims. For too long we have asked questions like: Why does she stay? Why doesn’t she leave? Why did she go back? Instead, we should be asking questions like why does he do that? And how do we stop the cycle of violence.
Educate ourselves and others. We need to understand the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault before we can begin to work towards solving it. Hosting workshops and giving performances and plays are just some of the ways bringing awareness to the community.
Focus on the systems. There are many barriers for Deaf victims in the medical, legal and emergency systems. We must work to remove those barriers so that there are lasting system changes. We also need to work with hearing providers in this field and build allies so that they understand that Deaf victims have unique needs.
Create new programs and services. By providing services that are culturally based, Deaf and ASL-centric, we give Deaf survivors a tangible and effective alternative to traditional, mainstream programs that have long been inaccessible for Deaf.
Sometimes people ask ADWAS staff how we survive doing this work. And we try to explain that it is powerful to work for change. And it is empowering working within our own community to end the cycle. But more than that, working with survivors who have experienced physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse and seeing their strength, their ability to endure and begin to heal, we see that it is possible. Not only is it possible, it is imperative.
This work of trying to end the cycle of violence is not easy or simple. It will not happen overnight. But we must try. And although we know the road to healing is long, together, with the community involved supporting victims and survivors and by creating new programs and services for survivors, our community can begin to heal.
Three new links related to domestic violence have been added to the useful links section related to domestic violence.
– The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) is a private nonprofit organization working at the state and national levels to eliminate domestic violence, secure justice for victims, enhance safety for families and communities, and create lasting systems and social change.
PCADV coordinates these efforts with its statewide network of programs, which provides 24-hour emergency hotlines, shelter, counseling, legal advocacy and representation, healthcare-based advocacy, childrens programs, transitional housing and many other free and confidential services. The agency does not specifically provide services to the Deaf or Deafblind but will assist you in finding resources in your area.
– Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS) provides comprehensive services to Deaf and Deaf-Blind victims/survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. ADWAS believes that violence is a learned behavior and envisions a world where violence is not tolerated.
ADWAS was founded in 1986 and is located in Seattle, Washington. The ADWAS model has been replicated in 19 Deaf communities across the United States. A list of resources and contacts where services that are specifically designed for the Deaf can be found on this site.
– The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) was established in 1991 within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its Vision is to ensure that “All Women and Girls are Healthier and Have a Better Sense of Well Being.” Its mission is to “provide leadership to promote health equity for women and girls through sex/gender-specific approaches.” The strategy OWH uses to achieve its mission and vision is through the development of innovative programs, by educating health professionals, and motivating behavior change in consumers through the dissemination of health information. State contacts where resources can be found about domestic violence can be found on this site.