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Home / Special Collections / Violence in the Lives of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Special Collection: Violence in the Lives of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Table of Contents:

This Special Collection offers information regarding the experiences and needs of individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing and have experienced abuse. The purpose of this collection is to: 1) increase victim advocates' knowledge and understanding of Deaf culture, 2) provide resources to assist helping professionals in direct service work with Deaf individuals, and 3) highlight best practices for addressing domestic and sexual violence in the Deaf community.

Special thanks to Gretchen Waech, former executive director of Deaf Iowans Against Abuse and the Justice for Deaf Victims National Coalition, and Cathy Hoog from Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services for their thoughtful contributions to this collection. Comments and content suggestions for this special collection are welcome via VAWnet's Online Contact Form.

Deaf culture | Back to top

According to federal definition, people who are part of the group commonly referred to as deaf and hard of hearing have a disability. Thus, they have the right to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and other pertinent laws.

However, within this group there are several sub-groups. Among them are those who consider themselves Deaf, with the capital D signifying a cultural identity. These members of the Deaf community do not typically consider themselves to have a disability; rather they consider themselves to be part of strong culturally cohesive community. While not all people who are deaf or hard of hearing identify with the Deaf culture, a significant portion do. Organizations must integrate knowledge of Deaf culture into their policies, practices, and attitudes in order to provide culturally affirmative services to Deaf survivors.

To understand Deaf culture, it is helpful to consider the definition of culture in general: the values, traditions, norms, customs, arts, history, folklore, institutions, and experiences shared by a group of people who are defined by race, ethnicity, language, nationality, or religion. In the United States, one of the central unifying characteristics of Deaf culture is the use of American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a language with an established linguistic structure; it is not a different form of English, as many believe (for an illustration of the differences between ASL and English, see Deaf Sexual and Domestic Violence Survivors: Unique Challenges). The use of ASL brings together a disparate group of individuals across the country, essentially creating a medium for shared values, norms, traditions, history, and experiences. This strengthens and emphasizes the linguistic minority status of the Deaf community.

There has been a significant movement in the United States to develop direct, culturally specific services for Deaf survivors of sexual and domestic violence. More than a dozen programs are currently operating across the country and many more are in development. However, since most communities do not have ready access to these programs, hearing advocates continue to have a significant role to play in offering culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible advocacy services to Deaf survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

The following materials provide more in depth information about the Deaf culture and its characteristics. In reading these materials, keep in mind that individual perspectives and definitions will vary. If the information appears to conflict, remember that members of the Deaf community are individuals, and that no definition will necessarily apply to every member of any given group.

  • Defining Deaf Culture | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    This web page offers dictionary definitions of culture and offers an insider’s definition of Deaf culture that draws on aspects identified in these sources.
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  • Deaf Culture: NETAC Teacher Tipsheet | PDF PDF (4 p.)
    by Linda Siple, Leslie Greer, and Barbra Ray Holcomb, Northeast Technical Assistance Center (2004)
    This brief factsheet describes common terms used within Deaf community, details shared values in contrast with mainstream U.S. hearing culture, and offers guidelines for communication.
    + View Summary
  • Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World | HTML HTML
    by Harlan Lane for the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Volume 10, Issue 3 (2005)
    This article by Harlan Lane discusses the eleven hallmarks of an ethnic minority and how the Deaf community (or DEAF-WORLD) fits each of those hallmarks.
    + View Summary
  • ASL Immersion: Deaf Culture Membership | HTML HTML
    by Michelle Jay for StartASL
    This web page depicts and explains another way of looking at the deaf/Deaf worlds that includes four “levels”: deaf people in isolation, the Deaf community, Deaf culture, and the Deaf Ethnicity.
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  • Reframing: From Hearing Loss to Deaf Gain | PDF PDF (10 p.)
    by H-Dirksen L. Bauman and Joseph M. Murray for the Deaf Studies Digital Journal, Issue 1 (Fall 2009)
    This article introduces the concept of Deaf gain, reframing deaf people as a group with sensory and cognitive diversity rather than a group lacking hearing.
    + View Summary
  • Understanding Deaf Culture | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by The Vera Institute of Justice, Accessing Safety Initiative
    This section of the Accessing Safety Initiative website provides a basic overview of the Deaf community and its culture to promote an understanding of the cultural background of Deaf survivors.
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deaf: The term deaf refers to individuals with severe to profound hearing loss. The use of the lowercase "d" reflects a physical, audiological, or pathological view of a deaf person.

Deaf: As mentioned above, the use of the capital “D” in Deaf denotes a person who identifies as part of a cultural minority group, rather than as a person with a disability. For people who identify as Deaf, people first language does not apply. For example, while people first language applies when referring to a “person with a disability,” the correct reference in Deaf culture would be "Deaf person" (emphasizing the person's cultural identity) rather than "person who is Deaf."

Hard of Hearing (HoH): Hard of hearing refers to individuals who typically experience their hearing loss from a physical or audiological perspective. An individual who is hard of hearing may primarily use spoken language (using their residual hearing and speech) to communicate. Some individuals may self-identify as hard of hearing, regardless of the severity of their hearing loss, because of internalized oppression, seeing the term deaf as stigmatizing. Also note that people in the Deaf community may refer to someone as hard of hearing if they choose to use speechreading to communicate, which disregards the actual level of hearing loss an individual may have or their culturally Deaf identity.

Hearing Impaired (HI): The term hearing impaired, typically used in an official context, is seen as negative and stigmatizing by the Deaf community. This term was created and has been nurtured by medical and audiological professionals, whose perspective on deafness generally falls on the pathological end of the scale. The majority of the Deaf community prefers the terms D/deaf and hard of hearing. Additionally, using the term hearing impaired leads to ambiguity, as it does not at all define the level of hearing loss nor the cultural needs of a person.

It is important to acknowledge that, as with any individual, a deaf or hard of hearing person has the right to self-label. Therefore, some may use the term hearing impaired to refer to themselves. Honor this, while still continuing to use otherwise accepted terminology.

American Sign Language (ASL): ASL is the primary language of culturally Deaf people in America. However, not all Deaf individuals use American Sign Language. Sign Language is not universal, and other countries may use different systems. Even in the United States, some Deaf individuals may use systems other than ASL, such as the Manually Coded English (MCE), which includes Signing Exact English (SEE-II), Signed English (SE) and Linguistics of Visual English (LOVE), among others. Some Deaf individuals may also use contact sign language, or contact sign, which is a variety or style of language that arises from contact between deaf sign language and an oral language (or the written or manually coded form of the oral language).

Interpreter (terp): A deaf interpreter is a trained, usually nationally certified or state verified, professional who facilitates communication between deaf people who use sign language and hearing individuals. Knowledge and fluency in sign language is only one aspect of being an interpreter; thus, do not confuse a signer (someone who knows sign language) for an interpreter.

  • What is the difference between a person who is “deaf,” “Deaf,” or “hard of hearing”? | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by National Association of the Deaf
    This webpage describes definitions for these terms, noting that personally-chosen labels may reflect identification with the Deaf community or merely describe how a person’s hearing loss affects their ability to communicate.
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Cochlear Implant (CI): A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. It is important to note that the Deaf community is sharply divided on the topic of CIs; some see the advent of CI surgery as cultural genocide, others look at it as just another type of hearing aid.


History is a vital part of any culture. Passing from generation to generation, the stories of shared experiences, traditions, and customs form a framework for cultural continuity and growth. The written history of the Deaf community has traditionally been told by outside observers. These observers are hearing people – audiologists, doctors, educators, and policymakers – who have worked with deaf individuals and often miss the cultural hallmarks of the community. With the work of Dr. William Stokoe in the 1960s demonstrating that ASL meets all criteria to be considered a natural and distinct language, a swelling of pride and an understanding of capability began. This work, coupled with the socio-political changes surrounding the Civil Rights movement, led to the surge of Deaf-authored history texts, which continues today.

While sometimes considered inferior to officially-recorded histories (i.e., written in English), the oral tradition of recording history, in fact, fits the Deaf community's needs well and is a critical component of maintaining a full record of Deaf history. For a greater understanding of how the history of Deaf people in the United States has been impacted by oppression, see section on Audism.

  • History Through Deaf Eyes | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by Gallaudet University
    The DEAF EYES project at Gallaudet University was established to bring Deaf history to the public and expand our understanding of United States history, and includes an online exhibition, book, and documentary film.
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  • Deaf Women Who Dared to Change the World | PPT (66 p.)
    by Transition Services Preparation & Training (2005)
    This PowerPoint presentation contains information about Deaf women who played critical roles in the world. Their accomplishments reached many circles beyond the Deaf culture.
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Advocating for inclusion has been a defining role of the disability rights movement. However, the sometimes-detrimental effect of inclusion on deaf individuals (children and adults) has often been ignored. When a Deaf person is expected to fit into an existing hearing group (of any type), it places a great burden both on the Deaf person and the group. With proper comprehensive support, it is possible to experience successful inclusion. However, comprehensive support is rarely provided. This holds true regardless of the age of the Deaf person or the nature of the group. Much of the history of the Deaf community has been written by outside observers who may be ignorant of the Deaf experience. The practice of inclusion has therefore led to increased (rather than lessened) isolation of Deaf individuals.

The issue of inclusion comes up often in relation to advocacy for Deaf survivors. Living in a domestic violence shelter with hearing survivors, staffed by hearing advocates, can create such severe isolation that a survivor may prefer to return to their home even if there is abuse. When a program enforces policies such as requiring Deaf survivors to attend support groups, or only allowing entry into the shelter via intercom, they are reinforcing a survivor’s belief that the services are not welcoming and accessible.

While providing an interpreter for short periods of time (such as during intake and during support group meetings) is an appropriate accommodation, it is generally not enough to counteract the isolation that Deaf survivors may experience in programs. This underscores the importance of having culturally affirmative and linguistically accessible direct service advocates for Deaf survivors; it also emphasizes the value of communication to the human condition. Creating safe and welcoming environments for Deaf survivors is an achievable and critical goal for all victims' services providers (see Accessibility for more information).

  • Stress Management, A Deaf Perspective | HTML HTML (3 p.)
    by Deaf Culture Online (2008)
    This page provides information and relevant resources that highlight the level of stress generated from the mainstreaming of people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing in society.
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  • Inclusion: NAD Position Statement | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by National Association of the Deaf
    This position statement explains in detail NAD organization’s position with regard to mainstreaming Deaf children in school settings.
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  • Bill of Rights for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by National Association of the Deaf (Updated December 2007)
    Bills of Rights for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children have been proposed and enacted in a number of states. This resource provides principles, language, and guidance for developing such a document. State-specific legislation is included.
    + View Summary
  • Deaf Persons and Experts Speak Out Against Inclusion | HTML HTML
    by DEAF-INFO
    This document captures the opinions of several people - both Deaf and professionals who work with the Deaf - speaking out against the Inclusion movement as it pertains to Deaf people.
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Myths and realities

The following is a short list of common myths about Deaf people:

All Deaf people wear hearing aids, and hearing aids restore hearing.
Hearing aids are assistive devices that, at their most basic function, amplify sound. The use of hearing aids is restricted to those who have enough residual hearing to make effective use of them. While many deaf people have some degree of residual hearing, it may not be enough to utilize a hearing aid. Even if it is, a deaf person may choose not to wear one.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) provides more in depth information about Hearing Aids, their purpose, functionality and limitations.

All Deaf people read lips. Lipreading is such a precise science that lipreaders can understand what’s being said from across the room.
Speechreading, historically known as lipreading, is not considered an acquirable skill, but rather an inborn talent. Only a small percentage of deaf people are considered expert speechreaders, meaning they may be able to understand 50-75% of what is said. For the rest, word comprehension may be in the realm of 5%-10%; comprehension of the actual subject matter and concepts being presented is often low due to the strain of attempting to decipher words.

All Deaf people use sign language.
Not all Deaf people communicate in the same way. American Sign Language (ASL), Signed English (SEE), speechreading, writing, gesturing, and speaking are all methods of communication which may be utilized by different Deaf people.

All Deaf people are mute.
Never assume that Deaf people cannot speak. Some can, but choose not to; some cannot. Compare this with hearing people and their ability or inability to sing. Some can and choose not to; some cannot. Those Deaf people who do choose to speak will often have an accent, which is sometimes difficult to understand; however, do not shame a Deaf person who chooses to speak by telling her her voice is incomprehensible. Instead, tactfully suggest it will be easier for both of you to communicate by writing until a better communication method is available.

Deaf people are less intelligent than hearing people. Deaf people who speak and who have good English skills are more intelligent than those who do not.
Hearing and speech usage have nothing to do with intelligence; likewise, the ability to speak English does not demonstrate IQ. Our society tends to belittle or dismiss those for whom English is a second language, when in reality many of these same people have keen minds and excellent use of their first language. This holds true for many Deaf people as well.

  • Myths about Deaf People (and the truth) | HTML HTML
    by If My Hands Could Speak...
    A Deaf blogger confronts common myths encountered by Deaf people in everyday life.
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  • Debunking Myths about the Deaf | HTML HTML
    by The University of Illinois at Chicago Disability Resource Center
    This page reviews common beliefs about deaf people, sign language, and American Sign Language.
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Audism: Oppression in the lives of Deaf individuals | Back to top

Audism: The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears. - From Tom Humphries, The Making of a Word: Audism, 1975

Audism is an attitude based on pathological thinking that results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear; like racism or sexism, audism judges, labels, and limits individuals on the basis of whether a person hears and speaks (Humphrey & Alcorn, 1995: 85). Audism reflects the medical view of deafness as a disability that must be fixed. It is rooted in the historical belief that deaf people were savages without language, equating language to humanity. Because many Deaf people grew up in hearing families who did not learn to sign, audism may be ingrained. Audists can be either hearing or deaf. This attitude can also be present among Deaf individuals.

Examples of audism:

  1. Jumping in to help a deaf person communicate.
  2. Asking a Deaf person to read your lips or write when s/he has indicated this isn’t preferred.
  3. Making phone calls for a deaf person since they "can't."
  4. Refusing to call an interpreter when one is requested.
  5. Assuming that those with better speech/English skills are superior.
  6. Asking a Deaf person to "tone down" their facial expressions because they are making others uncomfortable.
  7. Refusing to explain to a Deaf person why everyone around him is laughing – "never mind, I’ll tell you later, it doesn't matter."
  8. Devoting a significant amount of instructional time for a Deaf child to lipreading and speech therapy, rather than educational subjects.

Resources provided below explore the concept of audism and the construct of deafness in American mainstream culture.

  • What Is Audism: Introduction | HTML HTML
    by Gallaudet University
    This webpage provides a list of various definitions of audism and several references that provide in-depth discussion of the concept.
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  • Audism: A Theory and Practice of Audiocentric Privilege | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    from the American Sign Language Teachers Association
    This brief document reviews the history of the term audism and provides examples of audist practices and their intersections.
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  • Audism: Exploring the Metaphysics of Oppression | PDF PDF (8 p.)
    by H-Dirksen L. Bauman for the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Volume 9, Number 2 (2004)
    This paper explores three dimensions of audism (individual, institutional, and metaphysical) in further detail.
    + View Summary
  • Two Views of Deafness | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by Chris Wixtrom, Rochester Institute of Technology (2003)
    This chart compares two contrasting views of deafness: 1) as pathology and 2) as a difference. It provides helpful explanations of what a person might think or how they may behave.
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Language and communication | Back to top

ASL shares no grammatical similarities to English and should not be considered in any way to be a broken, mimed, or gestural form of English. In terms of syntax, for example, ASL has a topic-comment syntax, while English uses Subject-Object-Verb. In fact, in terms of syntax, ASL shares more with spoken Japanese than it does with English. - Deaf Library Online

The sharing of a language (American Sign Language) bridges racial, gender, class, and ethnic differences among the American Deaf community. As previously stated, not all deaf people will use ASL or other signed languages. It is always appropriate to ask the deaf person how s/he wishes to communicate.

Because ASL is a visual language, there is a different set of rules for interactions or etiquette around communication than there is for English. For example, eye contact is extremely important in ASL. In a signed conversation the people involved in the conversation must always look at each other. For Deaf people, then, breaking eye contact or no eye contact during a conversation shows indifference. - The Vera Institute of Justice, Accessing Safety Initiative: Understanding Deaf Culture

Speechreading, historically known as lipreading, is is an inborn talent, and one with which many Deaf people are not born. It is possible for an expert lipreader with high English proficiency to combine what is visible on the lips with environmental cues, knowledge of subject matter, body language, and facial expressions to understand a percentage (50-75%) of what is said. However, less than 5% of profoundly deaf people are able to read lips at this level.

Hearing can be done almost passively, but lipreading takes sustained, concentrated effort. - Lipreading as an Imperfect Skill
  • Seeing at the Speed of Sound | HTML HTML
    by Rachel Kolb for Stanford Magazine (2012)
    Rachel Kolb, the first deaf Rhodes Scholar, describes the frustrations and humor embodied in the process of lipreading.
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  • ASL: A Paradigm Shift | HTML HTML (4 p.)
    by Deaf Culture Online (2008)
    This article explores cultural aspects and the history of ASL from a personal experience and perspective.
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  • Considerations for Mediating with People Who Are Culturally Deaf | HTML HTML
    by Annette Leonard, Deb Duren, & John Reiman for (January 2003)
    This page, while written for mediators, gives an excellent overview of communication and cultural barriers for Deaf people.
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Etiquette | Back to top

While norms may change from community to community and person to person, there are some common behaviors accepted throughout the Deaf community. While some such behaviors may be considered rude in a group of hearing individuals, they may be actually quite acceptable within the Deaf community. Deaf community norms include:

  • Maintaining eye contact.
  • Being blunt and direct, whether in description or opinion.
  • Waving, tapping the shoulder, stamping on the floor, banging on the table, and turning the lights on and off to get someone's attention.
  • Touching during conversations.
  • Hugging when greeting or leaving.
  • Long goodbyes (saying goodbye to multiple people and engaging in further conversation during this process).
  • Walking between persons who are using sign language to communicate.
  • Exaggerated facial expressions in conjunction with the use of ASL (Facial expressions are an important part of communication in Sign. Additionally, Deaf people learn to read facial expressions when communicating with hearing people. It is very important to be mindful of body language when communicating with a Deaf person.)
  • Sharing of information which might typically be considered personal to themself and others. This is due to the collective nature of the Deaf community, and can be a serious barrier for advocates who struggle to help their Deaf clients understand the importance and/or meaning of confidentiality.
The resources provided below review values and norms in Deaf culture and offer guidance around etiquette for hearing individuals including ASL students and signers.
  • Etiquette Tips for Working with Deaf/Hard of Hearing Individuals | PDF PDF (1 p.)
    by Vera Institute of Justice, Accessing Safety Initiative
    This one-pager offers tips for hearing advocates to engage in effective, respectful communication with Deaf or hard of hearing individuals.
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  • Values and Norms | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by The Vera Institute of Justice, Accessing Safety Initiative
    This webpage provides information on etiquette, norms and values present in the Deaf culture.
    + View Summary
  • Etiquette for ASL Students and Signers | HTML HTML
    by EyeSign Interpreters, LLC (2013)
    This page gives etiquette tips for those who know sign language or ASL and wish to interact in the Deaf community.
    + View Summary
  • Interaction with Deaf People - A to Z | | PDF PDF (5 p.)
    by Gretchen Waech, Deaf Iowans Against Abuse (2007)
    This fact sheets offer information about Deaf and hard of hearing individuals and the Deaf culture in general, providing the reader with tips for how to best interact with Deaf individuals.
    + View Summary

Deaf Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence | Back to top

While limited research exists regarding the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence within the Deaf community, it is known that Deaf individuals experience violence at significant rates. The need for further research is clear, as well as the need for enhanced services and supports to meet the unique needs of Deaf survivors. Effective interventions to address domestic and sexual violence within the Deaf community require, at the very least, ongoing training and education about Deaf culture, collaboration between the Deaf community and hearing allies, the development of appropriate policies and procedures, and the implementation of linguistically and culturally responsive services. To support the work of Deaf and hearing service providers, this section offers information on the prevalence and dynamics of abuse as experienced by Deaf survivors. Also included are recommendations for best practices around accessibility, the use of interpreters, and building trust and collaboration between the Deaf community and hearing service providers.

Prevalence and Dynamics

Despite limited data on the issue, available research suggests that Deaf individuals may experience domestic and sexual violence at significantly greater rates than hearing individuals. Data from an eight-year survey of college students at Rochester Institute of Technology indicated that deaf and hard of hearing individuals are 1.5 times more likely to be victims of relationship violence, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, psychological abuse and physical abuse, in their lifetimes (Rochester Institute of Technology, 2010).

Deaf-specific research on domestic violence is just beginning to emerge. Findings from a computerized American Sign Language survey administered by Pollard and colleagues suggest that deaf adults who use sign language experience notably higher rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) than does the general population, at least in some IPV categories. Key findings from this survey include:

  • Data regarding emotional abuse identify it as the form of IPV most frequently reported by deaf persons, with lifetime rates exceeding 25% (Pollard, Sutter & Cerulli, 2013).
  • Reports of physical abuse appear to be at least as common among the deaf samples, if not slightly more so, as in the general population (Pollard, Sutter & Cerulli, 2013).
  • The forced sex results suggest that sexual violence is much more frequently experienced by deaf persons, consistent with previous research (Pollard, Sutter & Cerulli, 2013).

Similarly, research has just begun to explore the prevalence and consequences of sexual assault among Deaf individuals. Information available from sexual assault service providers (both Deaf and hearing) suggests that sexual assault is a significant problem in the Deaf community, although many providers do not see Deaf clients presenting with sexual assault issues (Obinna, Krueger, Osterbaan, Sadusky & DeVore, 2006). This is because Deaf survivors appear to experience profound isolation and lack of options in seeking help. Services are generally unavailable to this group in hearing agencies. Moreover, disclosure to formal support services about abuse may be hindered by the intimacy that exists in the Deaf community (Obinna et al., 2006).

Deaf victims of domestic and sexual violence face unique barriers in seeking help including isolation, compromised confidentiality, and lack of linguistically and culturally appropriate services. They are also subject to specific tactics of abuse that must be recognized and understood by service providers, Deaf and hearing alike.

Resources in this section provide information about the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence in the Deaf community. Also included is information on common Deaf-specific tactics of abuse used by perpetrators, as well as insights into the unique circumstances faced by Deaf victims, including available research related to their service needs.

“Till Domestic Violence Do Us Part” by DeafHope

  • Deaf Power and Control Wheel | PDF PDF (4 p.)
    by Rossana Reis, DeafHope (2006)
    Developed based on interviews with Deaf survivors of domestic violence, this power and control wheel highlights some of the dynamics of abuse when the abuser is a hearing individual.
    + View Summary
  • Deaf Power and Control Triangle | PDF PDF (1 p.)
    by Keri Darling, Deaf Vermonters Advocacy Services (DVAS) (2007)
    This triangle provides a visual illustration with examples of the unique tactics abusers may use to gain and maintain power and control over a victim who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
    + View Summary
  • Healthy Relationships/Equality Wheel | JPG
    by Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS)
    This accessible graphic illustrates - with the use of drawings in place of written words - what a healthy relationship looks like.
    + View Summary
  • Abuse in the Deaf Community | HTML HTML
    by The National Domestic Violence Hotline
    This page provides information about abuse in the Deaf community, including information on the unique circumstances faced by victims and common Deaf-specific tactics used by abusive partners.
    + View Summary
  • Deaf Culture and Domestic Violence | PPT (44 p.)
    by Gretchen Waech, Justice for Deaf Victims National Coalition (March 2009)
    This PowerPoint presentation offers an overview of the Deaf culture, accessibility challenges faced by Deaf individuals in society, dynamics present for Deaf victims, myths and realities about the Deaf culture among members of the hearing world, and more.
    + View Summary
  • Domestic Violence Within the Deaf Community | PDF PDF (9 p.)
    by the Alabama Mental Health Interpreter Training Project
    This training resource for mental health interpreters focuses on the needs of deaf victims and describes the unique challenges deaf victims face when seeking or receiving domestic and/or sexual violence services.
    + View Summary
  • Abuse, What? A Guide for the Deaf Community | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by the Ohio Domestic Violence Network
    This brochure was developed to provide information about intimate partner violence/domestic violence to Deaf survivors.
    + View Summary
  • Understanding the Needs of the Victims of Sexual Assault in the Deaf Community | PDF PDF (115 p.)
    by Jennifer Obinna, Sarh Krueger, Constance Osterbaan, Jane Sadusky, & Wendy DeVore, Council on Crime and Justice (October 2005)
    This report offers information from a study that examines the services provided to deaf individuals who were victims of sexual assault, the gaps that exist, and what service providers can do to fill those gaps.
    + View Summary
  • 'Why Cry if No One Hears?' The Deaf Community’s Experience of Sexual and Domestic Violence - Webinar Materials | HTML HTML
    by Gretchen Waech, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) (August 2009)
    Materials from the webinar held on July 28 and 29, 2009 include the PowerPoint presentation and questions and answers from the presenter. The transcript will be available soon.
    + View Summary
  • Violence in the lives of the Deaf: Unique Challenges Webinar Materials | PPT (43 p.) HTML HTML
    by Gretchen Waech & Heidi Notario-Smull, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (March 2010)
    This webinar provided information about the barriers encountered by Deaf survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault when seeking advocacy services from mainstream programs.
    + View Summary
  • Services for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Victims of Domestic Violence | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (1999, Spanish 2005)
    This brochure is intended to assist domestic violence victims who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing increase their knowledge of what types of services are available to them and the importance of their confidentiality when receiving services.
    + View Summary

Best practices
This section highlights best practices for working with Deaf survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Information and resources are organized into three subsections: Accessibility, Use of Interpreters, and Building Trust and Collaboration.

What is an Advocate? by DeafHope


Understanding your responsibility as service providers to Deaf or hard of hearing populations establishes the foundation for making those services accessible. Such responsibilities are delineated in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fair Housing Act. However, these requirements describe minimum standards for accessibility. Creating an environment and a program that is truly welcoming to Deaf individuals requires solutions that exceed these expectations.

By accessibility, we mean access in its broadest sense. It includes standards in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendments, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and state-level access requirements. Access also encompasses the development and use of policies and procedures that are trauma-informed. It is not just buildings and meeting spaces that need to be accessible. People have to remain accessible, too. A key aspect of access that will arise daily is the challenge as a provider of services to remain accessible—open and trauma-aware—during all interactions, especially ongoing relationships with organization participants. - Wisconsin’s Violence Against Women with Disabilities and Deaf Women Project (2011)

Accessibility is typically defined by the use of assistive devices or physical accommodations such as a ramp for persons who use wheelchairs or Braille labeling on elevator buttons. However, physical access cannot be the only priority. It is not sufficient to simply provide a flashing fire alarm in your building. Understanding that accessibility goes beyond improving the physical characteristics of a building is critical for service providers. Programmatic or attitudinal practices, such as maintaining strict 9-5 access to a video phone while providing 24/7 access to a regular phone, can be devastating for Deaf individuals.

Assistive devices such as video phones, computers, and smart phones make communication with the outside world and with one another possible for Deaf persons. The importance of this type of communication accessibility cannot be overstated.

Additionally, when Deaf survivors are expected to engage in a shelter culture that does not promote accessibility because of its practices, the survivor may become further isolated and more likely to leave the shelter. Punitive or restricting practices may include refusing to provide interpreters (often excused due to the cost/budget restraints) or expecting the survivor to surrender a cell phone in the name of safety.

In the context of sexual assault programs, the issue of accessibility revolves primarily around the need for a certified and qualified sign language interpreter during individual and group counseling sessions and any other contact between the survivor and the agency. Although adding a third party during these sessions is not ideal, it provides the survivor with the option to share her story. Utilizing paper and pen or a computer during these sessions in place of an interpreter is not recommended unless the survivor specifically requests to communicate in this manner.

The NRCDV Access Initiative: Documenting our progress towards greater accessibility
This resource page describes the story of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence Access Initiative, representing the NRCDV’s organizational commitment to accessibly and individuals with disabilities. This resource page offers definitions of key terms, provides an overview of our key activities and accomplishments, and offers lessons learned and recommendations.

  • Addressing Accessibility | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by The Vera Institute of Justice, Accessing Safety Initiative
    This resource offers information of how to make services welcoming and accessible for persons with disabilities and Deaf persons. Areas of emphasis include: meeting your responsibilities, designing environments for all, addressing individual needs, etc.
    + View Summary
  • Study Reveals Unique Issues Faced by Deaf Victims of Sexual Assault | PDF PDF (3 p.) HTML HTML (3 p.)
    by Lauren R. Taylor with Nicole Gaskin-Laniyan, National Institute of Justice (June 2007)
    Summarizes findings of a study describing some of the unique barriers faced by deaf victims seeking help and offering recommendations for improving the relationship between law enforcement and the deaf community.
    + View Summary
  • Assisting Women Who Are Abused in Our Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community | PPT (52 p.)
    by Presented at The Children’s Institute, Rochester (August 2005)
    This 52-slide PowerPoint presentation reviews Deaf culture and language, domestic violence in the Deaf community, the rights of the Deaf and ADA accommodations, and ways to better meet the safety and communication needs of Deaf survivors seeking services.
    + View Summary
  • Working with Deaf Survivors of Domestic Violence | Word DOC (4 p.)
    by Susun Kim, Bay Area Legal Aid, Contra Costa Regional Office
    The author describes her experience in learning to become an advocate for Deaf survivors of domestic violence, emphasizing the importance of both linguistic and cultural competency, and the necessity of key collaborations towards successful advocacy work.
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Use of Interpreters

An Interpreter is a bilingual-bicultural professional who provides ethically sound interpretation services while being sensitive to the environmental factors that may foster or impede the message.

Although some states have laws requiring the certification of ASL interpreters, this practice does not guarantee that these professionals are qualified to provide their services in the context of domestic or sexual violence. The majority of interpreters have not received training on these issues and therefore may be ill equipped to provide adequate services during such a critical time. Training interpreters on domestic and sexual violence is a practice that can benefit all parties involved.

Moreover, the Deaf community is often small and closely connected, and most people are at least familiar with one another. This means that information can travel quickly within the Deaf community, potentially compromising the confidentiality and safety of victims seeking domestic and sexual violence services. When securing interpreters for working with survivors, it is critical that service providers be mindful of the smallness of the community and the possibility of the interpreter and perpetrator (and/or interpreter and victim) knowing one another.

Note: It is important to understand that Deaf survivors are not responsible for payment of interpreters. This is a common misconception for survivors who may not seek services because they cannot afford an interpreter. Accommodations like interpreters are the financial responsibility of the service provider when requested by a survivor or when need is known.

Tips for using an interpreter:

  • Plan in advance: have a line item in your budget to pay for interpreters.
  • Partner with interpreting services agencies and provide them with training on sexual and domestic violence.
  • Ask the survivor if there is an interpreter she prefers to work with in that situation. She may prefer not to work with interpreters she knows personally, or she may prefer someone whose signing style (similar to a hearing person’s accent) is familiar to her.
  • When using an interpreter, try to either supply the interpreter and the Deaf person with vocabulary ahead of time, or explain any jargon used in practical terms to the interpreter. This will ease the interpretation and ensure the Deaf person understands the concept you are attempting to convey.

The following scenarios provide examples of best practices when working with Deaf survivors. These scenarios are organized in order of preference, reflecting a range that includes several options. It is important to remember that the survivor has the ultimate choice regarding which option to utilize.

  • Having a well-prepared Deaf advocate who has been thoroughly trained by a sexual assault and domestic violence program work with a Deaf survivor is the ideal situation.
  • If your agency does not have a Deaf advocate on staff, making a referral to a neighboring agency that does employ a Deaf advocate (with the survivor’s consent).
  • Co-advocacy, or a team approach, is often beneficial for survivor and advocates alike. This involves pairing a hearing advocate who is well versed in local resources with a Deaf advocate who might represent an organization with a broader scope. This might apply to the case of statewide organizations working in collaboration with local sexual assault/domestic violence programs.
  • Another effective team approach when working with Deaf survivors consists of well-trained hearing advocates (not only trained in advocacy but also in Deaf culture) who work with a qualified ASL interpreter and a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) if available and appropriate.

In emergency situations, when all the other possibilities have been exhausted, well-trained hearing advocates can utilize Video Relay Interpreters (VRI) to communicate with survivors. However, this option is not meant to replace a qualified interpreter under any circumstances, who can provide services in domestic or sexual violence related situations and can be physically present in the same location with the survivor.

As previously mentioned, American Sign Language is a language with an established linguistic structure, and it is not a different form of English. Other systems, such as the Manually Coded English (MCE), attempt to represent the English language. It should be noted, however, that even though a Deaf person may sign in an English-based system, her English literacy level may still be low, and written English may be an ineffective way to communicate. Providing information on domestic and sexual violence only through written English communication could lead to misunderstandings, shame, and lack of access.

As a best practice for providing linguistically and culturally appropriate services, information should be offered in the language best understood by the survivor. This does not mean having an interpreter read the information to the survivor but rather making content adjustments so that the information is readily understood. If possible, domestic and sexual violence agencies should provide Deaf survivors with information developed by Deaf persons in ASL.

  • Hiring an Interpreter | HTML HTML
    by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
    This page provides guidance for those seeking interpreter services, including access to a searchable database of interpreter service agencies.
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  • NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct | PDF PDF (5 p.)
    by the National Association of the Deaf and Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (2005)
    This document details the standards of professionalism and ethical conduct for interpreters.
    + View Summary
Building Trust and Collaboration

In order to adequately respond to the unique needs of Deaf survivors, trust and collaboration must be established and maintained between the Deaf community, domestic and sexual violence organizations, and other institutions and segments of society at large. Cross training and education are very useful for raising awareness of domestic violence, identifying allies, and building collaborative relationships between hearing advocates and institutions and the Deaf community. Most importantly, recognizing and rooting out audism and biases towards Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and signing people are paramount.

To become effective allies in the prevention and intervention of domestic and sexual violence, it is critical that the Deaf community supports non-violence, learns about the prevalence and dynamics of domestic and sexual violence, holds perpetrators accountable, and properly refers victims to expert, lifesaving help. In turn, it is crucial that hearing providers fully engage and collaborate with leaders in the Deaf community in order to provide effective services for Deaf individuals. Learning about Deaf culture, developing policies for providing accessible services, and recruiting and training volunteer Deaf/Signing advocates, are all key steps which hearing agencies can take toward ensuring that their services are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

In this section, the enclosed Deaf Community Accountability Wheel depicts the ideal response, within the Deaf community, to domestic and sexual violence. A Q and A provides concrete ideas to domestic and sexual violence agencies for building trust with the deaf community. Taken together, resources in this section highlight the importance of communication, cross training, and collaboration for effectively working with Deaf survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

  • When Deaf and Hearing Meet: Until We Can Communicate with Ease – A work-book for Hearing People Connected to Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Disability, and Related Programs | PDF PDF (22 p.)
    by Mark Sweet, Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services Division of Disability and Elder Services Office (March 2006)
    This workbook offers introductory information about language, culture, and respectful interactions between hearing and Deaf, helping the user feel comfortable, confident, creative, and competent to provide respectful assistance to Deaf individuals.
    + View Summary
  • Deaf Victims/Survivors: A Guide to Effective Service Delivery | PDF PDF (32 p.)
    by Crisis Center Foundation (CCF), the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the CCF Deaf Ad (Revised March 2009)
    This resource is intended to help the staff of domestic violence programs better understand the needs of Deaf/HOH victim/survivors and provide services in ways that appropriately meet those needs.
    + View Summary
  • Working with Deaf Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence | PDF PDF ( p.)
    by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (Summer 2013)
    This Q and A provides information for working with Deaf survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including offering practical tips for advocates in building trust and collaboration with the Deaf community.
    + View Summary
  • Deaf Community Accountability Wheel | PDF PDF (4 p.)
    by Erin Esposito and Aimee Whyte of Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims (ASADV)
    This wheel depicts an ideal response, within the Deaf community, to the issue of domestic violence.
    + View Summary

Engaging Deaf Men Project (EDMP)
EDMP’s vision is to engage Deaf & hard of hearing men as allies in ending violence against women through the fostering and creating of opportunities for men to have safe and efficient dialogue(s) with one another as men that creates a positive ripple effect to other men in the Deaf community.

Organizations FOR Deaf Survivors of Abuse | Back to top

National Domestic Violence Hotline

IM: DeafHotline
TTY: 1-800-787-3224
Video Phone: 1-855-812-1001
Live Chat:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) provides lifesaving tools and immediate support to enable victims to find safety and live lives free of abuse. The hotline has partnered with the Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS) to ensure Deaf advocates are available to respond through email, instant messenger, and video phone to those callers seeking help.

Justice for Deaf Victims National Coalition (JDVNC)
The mission of the Justice for Deaf Victims National Coalition is to end domestic and sexual violence in the deaf community through advocacy, awareness, and empowerment.

Organized below by state, programs that are formally established and providing services are listed here. The services provided vary from program to program.


  • DeafHope - Oakland
    "DeafHope is a nonprofit organization, established for and by Deaf women in January 2003. Our mission at DeafHope is to end domestic and sexual violence against Deaf women and children through empowerment, education and services. This mission will be achieved on three levels - by providing services to Deaf women and children who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence; by educating our community and service providers about domestic and sexual violence; and by providing statewide training and technical assistance to establish more Deaf-run services for Deaf survivors."
  • National Center for Deaf Advocacy - San Diego
    "The National Center for Deaf Advocacy has a comprehensive domestic violence program. We provide services to anyone who needs our help. We specialize in services for victims who are deaf, hard of hearing, and late deafened. We have Staff who are hearing, deaf and hard of hearing to assist victims and survivors with any related situation. Every effort is made to provide direct services in a client’s own language."
  • Peace Over Violence - Los Angeles
    "Peace Over Violence is a non-profit, feminist, multicultural, volunteer organization dedicated to a building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence. To achieve this mission our agency manages five departments delivering the services of Emergency, Intervention, Prevention, Education and Advocacy."


  • DOVE: Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Women and Children - Denver
    DOVE is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing services to Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Late-Deafened and Deaf-Blind victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.  DOVE’s purpose is to provide free services and education to Deaf victims, victim service providers and the general public. DOVE’s mission is to provide culturally accessible services that empower and offer hope to deaf and hard of hearing individuals who experience abuse.

District of Columbia

  • Deaf Abused Women's Network
    "DAWN is a Deaf-Women run community-based non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating the community about domestic violence and sexual violence. We are advocates, domestic violence/sexual violence survivors, volunteers and leaders who share a common language, American Sign Language (ASL), and strive to end the cycle of DV/SV. We serve Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, Deaf-Blind residents and families of the Washington, D.C. and the Metro area who have experienced DV/SV by providing crisis intervention, education, advocacy, and resource referral."


  • Chicago Hearing Society - Chicago
    "Chicago Hearing Society’s mission is to empower deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people to communicate with each other, thereby lessening the isolation which separates them."


  • Deaf Iowans Against Abuse (DIAA) - Cedar Rapids
    "Deaf Iowans Against Abuse (DIAA) believes that every victim deserves accessible appropriate services, immediately. DIAA's mission is to serve as a harbor for all Deaf, Deaf-blind, and Hard of Hearing people who have experienced domestic and sexual violence and to provide a safe environment for empowerment and exploration of personal strengths. DIAA advocates for social change, partnering with other agencies to deliver education and professional training to end domestic and sexual violence."



  • Deaf Women's Advocacy Services (DWAS) - Detroit
    Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (DWAS) is a small, non-profit 501 (C) (3) organization, dedicated to helping Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing women who are victims of domestic and/or sexual violence. DWAS was established in the early 1990’s with a mission to raise awareness in the Southeast Michigan Deaf community about domestic and sexual violence, and to provide support services to Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing women in our community.


  • CSD of Minnesota Deaf Domestic Violence Program - St. Paul
    "CSD (also known as Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc.) is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing broad-based services, ensuring public accessibility and increasing public awareness of issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Through global leadership and a continuum of quality communication services and human service programs, CSD provides the tools conducive to a positive and fully integrated life."

New York

  • Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims - Rochester
    "Our mission is to provide support for Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults and their children who are or have been victims of domestic violence and or sexual assault. A safe environment of empowering, advocacy, and educational/training services will be offered to them."
  • Freedom House Emergency Shelter - New York City
    "Freedom House is an Emergency Shelter for survivors of domestic violence with disabilities or survivors who have children with disabilities. We are equipped to serve people with all kinds of disabilities, from physical to emotional to recovering substance abusers. We have staff fluent in English, Spanish and American Sign Language."


  • Deaf Women Against Violence Everywhere - Central Ohio
    "To establish a model agency to offer culturally affirmative advocacy and support services to survivors of domestic violence (DV) and/or sexual assault (SA) in Central Ohio's Deaf/hard of hearing community."


  • CSD of Oklahoma Deaf Domestic Violence Program - Oklahoma City and Tulsa
    "CSD (also known as Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc.) is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing broad-based services, ensuring public accessibility and increasing public awareness of issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Through global leadership and a continuum of quality communication services and human service programs, CSD provides the tools conducive to a positive and fully integrated life."


  • State of Oregon Domestic Violence/Disability Abuse Coordinator Deaf/Hard of Hearing Advocate
    Contact: 541.754.0273 TTY
    Phone Message: 541.754.0384
    Contact Person: Gwinette E. Hamlett
    Contact Email:


  • Safe Place - Austin
    "We provide individual counseling, support groups, advocacy and parenting classes by staff fluent in American Sign Language. We also provide training and education on topics related to domestic and sexual violence in the Deaf community."


  • Sego Lily Center for the Abused Deaf - Salt Lake City
    "The Sego Lily Center for the Abused Deaf (SLCAD) is an advocacy agency designed to meet the specific needs of Deaf, Deaf/Blind and Hard of Hearing victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It is modeled after the Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services (ADWAS) from Seattle, Washington."


  • Deaf Vermonters Advocacy Service
    "The mission of DVAS is to enrich the lives of people with hearing loss by providing access to services, education and advocacy."




  • Deaf Unity
    "All Deaf people women, children and men have a right to a healthy, violence-free life."
For more resourcs on this topic, the ADWAS store provides access to materials such as videos, books, handbooks, etc. developed by the Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services (ADWAS) in Seattle, WA.