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November 26, 2003

Shelter for deaf battered women

From: Tri-Valley Herald, CA - Nov 26, 2003

New Bay Area nonprofit, DeafHope, to open officially next month

By Michelle Meyers STAFF WRITER

HAYWARD -- Sinden Law, like many other domestic violence survivors, needed help getting out of an almost lifelong pattern of abusive relationships. She fled three abusive partners and eventually her home in Los Angeles, just to stay alive.

What's different in Law's case, though, is that -- when she was finally ready to ask for help -- she had to do so in writing or American Sign Language. Her deafness made it all the more difficult to communicate her fear and sense of helplessness.

"And shelters are usually group-based," said Law. "If people don't know sign language, how do they connect with us?"

That's just one of the many issues Law is taking on as peer advocate for the new nonprofit DeafHope, the Bay Area's only such resource center for battered deaf women.

Center open for holiday season

DeafHope will open officially next month amid the emotionally charged holiday season that often leads to a rise in domestic abuse, said Director Julie Rems-Smario.

Located on Mission Boulevard just north of A Street, DeafHope is a revival of the former Deaf Women Against Violence (DWAV), which closed in August 2002 due to lack of funding. Law was one of DWAV's clients.

"They were my advocates and guided me through my new life here," Law said, adding that now she hopes to give back by helping other survivors. "They made sure I received access and care while I stayed in shelters. They made me feel safe."

Old center lacked organization

The former organization, also located in the renovated Victorian at 24802 Mission Blvd., was the first center of its kind in the state. But it also wrestled with hiring disputes and internal politics.

"Deaf woman never had a sophisticated organization here," Rems-Smario said, "so the leadership concept within the deaf women community is new."

Concerned about needs going unmet for the 145 clients DWAV served in 20 months, Rems-Smario and other volunteers decided to launch something new and improved.

"We wanted the services to go on no matter what. They could save a life," Rems-Smario said, adding that most clients lived nearby, but some came from as far as Tracy.

DeafHope, which also has a Sacramento office, is independent and run by a board of eight volunteers. All are certified and trained to work with domestic violence victims and in running a nonprofit, Rems-Smario said.

"The board is our fundraiser," she added.

DeafHope's overall goal is to provide clients with a broad range of support services such as counseling, shelter referrals, legal assistance and a hotline -- 866-DeafHope. Volunteers also train shelters on how to make their services available to deaf women. The opening is planned for Dec. 13.

DeafHope legal advocate Jane Whitney, herself deaf, got involved in the former DWAV after her best friend was killed by an ex-boyfriend.

"I didn't want to see other deaf women go through the same thing," she said, adding that she's felt some backlash from the deaf community for bringing the taboo issue of domestic violence to the forefront. "I developed Teflon skin."

Whitney helps clients get restraining orders, work on child custody issues and navigate what can be an intimidating legal system, she said. I'm so impressed with the teamwork between the advocate, Jane and the survivor, Rems-Smario said. There's no us' and them'. We are all in this together.

DeafHope volunteers plan to expand services to include more support for the growing multiracial population and, ultimately, its own shelter for deaf women, Rems-Smario said. She also hopes to garner more support among members of the hearing community, she said.

Rems-Smario and her husband are both deaf, but their three children, ages 10, 8 and 5 are not. They use sign language to communicate in their Castro Valley home.

She was never a victim of domestic violence but got involved in the issue after working as a case manager for abused deaf children. A Hayward High School graduate, Rems-Smario has a master's in both deaf education and counseling.

DeafHope will host an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 15 to celebrate its new hotline. Event admission is a $10 donation. To R.S.V.P, or for more information about DeafHope,, or visit the website at

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