Speaking through an interpreter for the deaf, Dawn Marie Fucile recalled the horrors of her three-year abusive relationship. Her ex-boyfriend, who is also deaf, pushed her down, hit her, and threw her at their coffee table. It’s only by sheer luck that she missed it “by an inch,” she says.
Unfortunately, the reality of domestic abuse within the deaf community is that it’s startlingly common. A recent study from the Rochester Institute of Technology showed that individuals in the deaf community are 1.5 times more likely than hearing individuals to become victims of relationship violence.
The eight-year study surveyed college students at RIT, home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The study was one of the first to examine the relationship between relationship violence and the deaf community. Relationship violence includes physical and psychological abuse within domestic relationships, as well as sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Partner violence is already an overwhelming problem in the United States. Every year, approximately 4.8 million women experience physical violence by an intimate partner. However, not only are women in the deaf community more likely to suffer physical abuse, they also have a more difficult time reporting their assaults.
According to the CEO of Cleveland’s Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center, the fact that deaf and hard of hearing victims lack easy access to education or communication services presents a big problem. Once Dawn Marie Fucile finally gathered the courage to contact police after her boyfriend assaulted her, she became frustrated with police who assumed she couldn’t understand them or communicate at all.
Fortunately, a recent federal grant has supplied the Cleveland Police Department and the domestic violence center with iPads that can remotely connect with interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing. Officers can now bring these iPads with them on calls, which is particularly helpful given Cleveland’s tight-knit deaf community. In addition, police officers in Parma, Ohio have implemented a text messaging service to communicate with deaf individuals. Both Parma and Cleveland police utilize live interpreters for in-depth interviews.
Although Fucile’s ex-boyfriend has since been tried and convicted, police departments across the nation still have a long way to go in order to provide reporting services specifically for deaf individuals. Fucile says the use of technology is “a step in the right direction,” and urges domestic violence victims to be unafraid to ask for help. One can only hope that there will be a nation-wide push for police squads across the country to use similar technologies in order to protect the particularly vulnerable people in the deaf community.