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It’s Why Deaf People Don’t Report To Police

Deaf News: When it comes to domestic abuse and sexual assault reporting, Deaf women are underserved by police in the United States.


NEW YORK CITY -- International Business Times: The abuse started with a few insults. When Wendy, a Deaf woman, met her college boyfriend, he was popular and attractive, so she put up with the harsh way he spoke to her. Then he gave her a black eye.

“I thought it was normal, and that that was love; that it was just a part of when you care about somebody,” Wendy, 38, who didn’t want to be identified by her real name because she has yet to go public with her story, said through a sign language interpreter. “Then the insults became a little bit physical, and then a cycle began.”

The cycle included her boyfriend holding her hostage in locked rooms after arguments, once almost forcing her to go to the bathroom in a bucket because she couldn’t leave. He beat her up on her 27th birthday, but she didn’t report it at least partly out of fear no one would believe her. She tells the story of a fellow Deaf friend who was abused by a significant other, and when police came to investigate, they didn’t believe the Deaf friend was abused.

“It’s why Deaf people don’t report to police,” Wendy, a Deaf community advocate in the central New York area, said. “It’s always ‘they won’t believe me.’ ”

Deaf women experience sexual and domestic abuse at much higher rates than women who hear, but are unlikely to report it. A new initiative announced last week from the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York City-based nonprofit, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime aims to change that by training police officers to facilitate communication with Deaf victims, such as teaching them how to find legitimate sign language interpreters. Activists say many law enforcement officials don’t know the best way to communicate with Deaf victims, discouraging the victims from reporting abuse.

“Now, they don’t have equal access to get the help they need,” Erin Esposito, a Deaf woman and executive director of the Rochester, New York-based Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims, said of Deaf victims. “The goal is to create an atmosphere where Deaf people can feel confident to go into a police station and get help.”

The Translating Justice Initiative is a three-year program, funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department that will go toward virtual and in-person training sessions of police officers, prosecutors and court administrators to help them better communicate with the Deaf, as well as the hard of hearing and those with limited English proficiency. The training is intended to enable police agencies to look at their policies regarding Deaf victims, revamp them to better facilitate communication and show officers how to better use resources already out there to help the Deaf, said Susan Shah, one of the co-leaders of the initiative.

Officers will be instructed in telephonic interpretation services, finding interpreters in the community and ways to avoid outdated technology, Shah said. Another major part of the training is teaching police to reach out to the Deaf community so Deaf victims of domestic and sexual abuse can feel more comfortable coming forward.

There is no cookie-cutter training for every police agency as every one has different levels of how well they interact with Deaf people, Esposito said. While there have been localized efforts to fund programs for Deaf victims, this is one of the only national initiatives providing this type of training, activists said.

No one event spawned the project, which has been in development with the Justice Department and other agencies, such as Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims and the National Center for Victims of Crime. The Office for Victims of Crime said in a statement that inroads had been made in recent years to serve victims who have disabilities or limited English proficiency, and that the program came about to bring together local efforts to help Deaf victims.... Read More.

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