Domestic violence is scary as is for hearing survivors of domestic violence, and it can feel next to impossible for Deaf survivors. The Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS] calculated that within any given 10-year period, over 500,000 non-fatal domestic violence cases are not reported and RAINN estimated 75% of rapes are not reported. The BJS’ National Crime Victimization Survey [NCVS] shared that the incidents are not reported for the following reasons: “the victim wanted to protect the offender (21 percent), felt the crime was minor or unimportant (20 percent) or feared reprisal from the offender or others (19 percent).”

Unfortunately, state-sponsored and academic research do not take into account the extent of the sociocultural and language barriers that survivors face, including the frequency of cases where the abuser is hearing and the hearing abuser takes advantage of the situation. Some instances include taking away or breaking the survivor’s electronic devices (i.e., cell phone, laptop), taking away the TV remote for the videophone, breaking the TV so the survivor cannot access the videophone, or breaking the survivor’s fingers or hands so the survivor cannot sign or write for communication. 

One of the more common ways the hearing abuser exploits the situation with their hearing privilege happens when the law enforcement officer(s) come to the property as a response to domestic calls: the hearing abuser makes sure they get to talk with the officer(s) first. The Deaf survivor oftentimes does not get any chance to communicate with the officer(s), and sometimes the officer(s) arrest the survivor instead of the abuser.

When police officers respond to an incident, according to an anonymous expert in domestic violence advocacy, “each person has the right to talk to the police in a language that they communicate freely in.” The expert also emphasized, “Make sure that the police take the time to hear your side of the story prior to making any arrests. Do this away from the perpetrators.” 

The abuser tends to flip the script and plays the victim, and the officers do not always have the proper training to handle that scenario. If and when, as a survivor, you find yourself in this situation, it is important to reach out to your local advocates to determine what your legal rights are and develop a safety plan. Language barriers, among other obstacles, can make reporting difficult, if not possible.

A U.S. Department of Justice research report shows that most police departments have written protocols and policies on how to respond to domestic violence calls, and it is necessary to note that those protocols and policies have been revised since then. “A little more than half of departments (53%) have had their policy in place for over six years” (Meg Townsend, Dana Hunt, Sarah Kuck, & Caity Baxter – National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2005). Townsend et al. (2005) also pointed out that only 11% of police departments in the U.S. had designated domestic violence special units, and the odds of a police department having such a unit was more likely if the department size was larger (the department size corresponds to the population served — if it was a metropolitan area as opposed to a small rural area, the department is on the larger side). 

If you have been wrongfully arrested recently, you can contact two agencies for assistance:

  • National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women [NCDBW] is a resource and advocacy center for victims of battering charged with crimes related to their experience of being battered. NCDBW works to “increase justice for — and prevent further victimization of — arrested, convicted, and/or incarcerated battered victims throughout the United States.” Although NCDBW does not provide legal representation, their services include (but are not limited to) survivor advocacy, the offer of expert witnesses for trials, assistants for the legal defense team, and ongoing correspondence with hundreds of persons who are incarcerated.
  • Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities [HEARD] is a non-profit organization focused on the needs of Deaf community members who are incarcerated and keeps track of police brutality within the Deaf communities. Out of HEARD’s documented 64 cases, none of the Deaf defendants had adequate language access and language access is the most critical factor in knowing their rights. 

For immediate help, you can contact Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services [ADWAS] at 205-518-9351 or ADWAS’ website could be a great resource in figuring out what to do next as a survivor. You can also access the National Domestic Violence Hotline via chat.