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September 26, 2006

Women who are deaf face special challenges when domestic violence strikes

From: Chicago Hearing Society - Sep 26, 2006


Contact: Betsy Storm, Director of Public Relations,
Aricka Flowers, Public Relations Specialist,
Phone: (773) 973-7900, Ext. 243 or 228

Women who are deaf face special challenges when domestic violence strikes

New video created by Chicago Hearing Society helps ensure these individuals will be protected and receive essential services

CHICAGO, IL (September 26, 2006) One in four individuals will experience domestic violence during her lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Women who are deaf or hard of hearing are up against an even tougher challenge than hearing women when they try to escape their batterers, secure the services they need to survive – such as counseling and domestic violence shelters – and make sure their legal rights are protected.

The Chicago Hearing Society, a division of Chicago’s Anixter Center, has produced a new video called “Deafening Silence” to help ensure that organizations that provide services to women who are deaf and hard of hearing are aware of this group’s special needs. It’s intended primarily for domestic violence agencies, shelters and hospital emergency room workers. (According to the American Speech and Hearing Association, 42 million Americans experience some kind of speech, voice, language or hearing impairment.)

The half-hour video, produced with funds from the United States Department of Justice, uses a realistic dramatic portrayal to depict what often happens when women who are deaf suffer domestic violence. It’s well documented that battering - or domestic violence – represents a power struggle, usually men’s intent to control women.

“Most abusers try to isolate their victims from the rest of the community, “ says Jill Sahakian, director of Chicago Hearing Society. “Because of the special communication needs of deaf people, such isolation may be even more profound than for a hearing victim.” When a deaf women who uses sign language as a primary means of communication is being battered by a hearing man, her communication options are more limited. When she attempts to report the abuse, her abuser is often able to communicate quickly, verbally and directly with law enforcement or others who the woman tries to contact for help. He can often dispel or dismiss her accusation, and if a woman is unable to communicate, the real story obviously will not be heard.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, made several important provisions to protect the rights of people who are deaf, and many of these come into play when domestic violence occurs,” says Sahakian. For example, under the ADA, an abused person is entitled to an effective, objective, impartial communication, often provided by a sign language interpreter. Accused abusers obviously don’t meet this criteria, yet they often are requested to interpret. Children should never be asked to interpret either, yet often are urged to do so.

“Service providers – such as domestic violence agencies – need to know about the services they’re obligated to provide,” says Sahakian. For examples, domestic violence shelters should be equipped with a TTY (a special telecommunication device that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired use the telephone to communicate, by allowing them to type messages back and forth to one another instead of talking and listening.) The Chicago Hearing Society video, “Deafening Silence,” addresses the importance of the TTY.

The video was produced with a grant provided by the Office on Violence Against Women, United States Justice Department. Grant funding allowed the Chicago Hearing Society, which regularly counsels victims of domestic violence who are deaf and hard of hearing, to hire two staff members to create “Deafening Silence.” They developed a training curriculum, received feedback from those who would eventually use the video, wrote the script, auditioned actors, and shot and edited the video. In producing “Deafening Silence, ” Chicago Hearing Society partnered with Mt. Sinai Hospital and Rainbow House (a domestic violence agency that is no longer in operation).

The video, along with an accompanying guide that includes topics such as “Myths Surrounding Domestic Violence” and “Myths and Facts about Deafness” will be distributed free of charge to nearly 2,500 domestic violence agencies nationwide. If you would like a copy of the video, send an e-mail to

Chicago Hearing Society
Chicago Hearing Society is a division of Anixter Center, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the region and the 13th-largest charitable organization in Chicago according to Crain’s Chicago Business. 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. The mission of Anixter Center is to assist people with disabilities to live and work successfully in the community. Anixter Center is a leading provider of high-quality vocational, residential and educational options, substance abuse prevention and treatment, and health care. Anixter Center is an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities to be full and equal members of the community. More than 5,000 individuals a year are served through 70 programs at 35 locations throughout the Chicago area.