Increasing Culturally and Lingustically Competent Services for Deaf Survivors

Deaf women in the United States experience rates of domestic and sexual violence equal to or higher than their hearing counterparts, yet routinely face barriers when reaching out for help. In 2005, the Center on Victimization and Safety partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women to better understand the experiences of Deaf survivors and the barriers they face. Since this time we have worked to: build the capacity of Deaf-specific domestic violence and sexual assault service providers; support hearing providers in efforts to make their services accessible; and foster a national dialogue around the needs of Deaf survivors.

Our preliminary research in this area included a scan of the literature and hosting three national roundtable discussions with more than 40 experts in this area, including Deaf advocates and hearing allies. This research, combined with on-going conversations with Deaf advocates, has resulted in a robust body of work to increase access to services for Deaf survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Highlights from this work include:

  • The 2013 Interpreting Effectively and Safely for Deaf Survivors of Violence training. This two-day training, which brought together over 50 interpreters, was designed to prepare American Sign Language Interpreters and Certified/Deaf Interpreters to interpret in contexts involving sexual and/or domestic violence.
  • The first national conference on serving Deaf survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, Bridging the Gap: Creating a Community of Support for Deaf Survivors, also took place in 2013. The conference featured more than 20 of the country’s leading experts on domestic and sexual violence against Deaf individuals training on topics ranging from using technology safely to communicate with Deaf survivors to increasing access to the criminal justice system and legal services. More than 200 first responders, prosecutors, and victim service providers from around the country were in attendance.
  • Most recently, in February 2015, we released Culture, Language, and Access: Key Considerations for Serving Deaf Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence. This policy and practice brief summarizes the findings from our work with the Deaf community over the past 10 years and offers practical suggestions for increasing Deaf survivors’ access to victim services and other supports, including those offered by the criminal justice and medical system.

Why This Work Matters

Deaf survivors routinely face barriers when reaching out for help. From 911 systems that only take phone-based calls to domestic violence programs and rape crisis centers that do not provide bilingual and bicultural services in ASL, to prosecutors who question the credibility of Deaf witnesses, the services and systems designed to respond to domestic and sexual violence are not equipped to meet the unique language and cultural needs of the Deaf community. This project provides us with a opportunity to change this so Deaf survivors can easily obtain culturally and linguistically appropriate services and support they need.