Gender-based violence (GBV) against deaf women is a growing concern despite considerable attention being given in society to this form of violence against women, a study at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) has found.
Ronel Davids, from the social work department at the UWC, and Maria van Staden, from UWC’s gender equity unit conducted the study, which revealed that deafness made women more vulnerable to GBV.
They called for more accessible and inclusive public education and awareness campaigns.
In a statement, Dr Davids and Ms Van Staden said deafness made women who are deaf especially vulnerable to GBV due to the impact of their deafness on their social well-being and quality of life.
“Unfortunately, there is relatively little research on the prevalence of GBV among women who are deaf, making it challenging to identify the most impacted and where interventions are most needed.”
The pair found in their research that deaf women face barriers in accessing social networks, medical services, and justice services, among other support sources, because South African sign language is not widely understood.
They argue that this leads to a lack of support for deaf women who are victims of GBV and results in a second wave of trauma. The support intended to help them may not be accessible, which further exacerbated their challenges.
Developing targeted services and support for these women was essential, they said, with dedicated health-care and justice staff in the specialised field, which includes deaf culture and South African sign language.
Cape Town Central police spokesperson Captain Ezra October said difficulties arose when a person could not report a crime because of a language barrier.
“The same applies to children and people with disabilities that cannot speak. Its definitely challenging.”
He said the police worked with Thutuzela Centres around the city to help victims with disabilities report cases.
Thuthuzela Centres are one-stop facilities that aim to reduce secondary victimisation and to build a case ready for successful prosecution.
Fifty one centres have been established since 2006.
Captain October also believes that cases involving victims with disability should be fast-tracked, and that police can benefit from training to help victims of GBV more efficiently.
Meanwhile, the study showed that GBV experiences of deaf women are further exacerbated by the difficulty of not understanding the terminology used in GBV vocabulary, as well as ineffective lip-reading and writing notes back and forth.
During four workshops with 20 deaf women in each conducted for the study, Dr Davids and Ms Van Staden found that many believe that they cannot get raped in their marriage
They also found that the women gave in to sexual pressure from their husbands for fear there would otherwise be conflicts in their homes.
Many of the participants felt that they were experiencing this type of abuse but did not know it was called marital rape.
The study added: “One participant had reported her husband to the police and laid a charge of marital rape, but nothing came of the case as the police did not understand her. No sign language interpreter was available to her.”
The study’s findings will contribute to a policy brief for the City of Cape Town’s diversity and gender unit, which will guide the creation of effective strategies and solutions for dealing with GBV issues faced by deaf women.
Their findings would help inform practical interventions and solutions to tackle the issues of GBV experienced by deaf women, they said.
“These creative strategies can be in the form of practical interventions and support services that are survivor-centred and culturally sensitive for a person who is deaf, that address the gender imbalances in society and, in this case, in the deaf community.”