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‘Invisible’ Survivors: How the Deaf Suffer From Sexual Violence

Reporting sexual violence is hard for a deaf woman. Watch this video to know how things can be made a little easier.

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3 min read

Camera: Abhay Sharma
Production Assistant: Malini Chakrabarty
Video Editor: Kunal Mehra

A 2014 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, following her visit to India, said a consistent lack of disaggregated data collection “renders the violence committed against women with disabilities invisible.”
Human Rights Watch

What does this mean?

That the difficulties women and girls already face in the face of sexual violence – the stigma of approaching a thana, the very act of reporting and submitting your body to a medical exam, the long and laborious court battle, the insidious, relentless victim-blaming – are that much amplified for a survivor who isn’t abled.

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What Rights Do Survivors With Disabilities Have?

Responding to the thunderous public outrage over the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in December 2012, the government of India introduced the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2013. Among its various provisions, were ones that included making justice easier and more accessible for deaf (and in fact, all differently-abled) survivors.

For instance, if (the person) “is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled” –

(a) ...then, such information shall be recorded by a police officer, at the residence of the person seeking to report such offence or at a convenient place of such person's choice, in the presence of an interpreter or a special educator, as the case may be;

(b) ...the statement made by the person, with the assistance of an interpreter or a special educator, shall be videographed.

The latter clause is to make sure that the person doesn’t have to relive the pain and trauma over and over again, on cross-examination, during trial.

The amendments are in place – but here’s the deal:

How often are they enforced? How many cases go unreported because of the associated stigma and the additional fear of ridicule? Have we ensured that deaf women and girls are imparted the same education about sex and sexuality, about a touch that is passable and one that borders on abuse, as non-deaf survivors are? Do they continue, still, to remain “invisible” survivors of sexual violence?

Reiterates Ruma Roka, founder of the Noida Deaf Society:

Many of the women who suffer sexual abuse but cannot hear or speak, do not approach a police station for fear of being ridiculed. Can you imagine the state she must be in? Looking for help, but facing people who can’t comprehend her? It’s absolutely essential to have a sign language interpreter at the police station, as also at hospitals where she will be completely clueless about her medical exam. And then the family, the first unit of society, needs to be the most understanding.

Two Interpreters Answer Questions About Sexual Abuse

An April 2018 report, published by Human Rights Watch, found that:

“...while the 2013 amendments have made significant progress in responding to the widespread challenges that victims of sexual violence endure, they have yet to properly develop and implement support for survivors with disabilities in the form of trainings and reforms throughout the criminal justice system.”

I reached out to two sign language interpreters and instructors at the Noida Deaf Society for this video to, at least, try to stopper the gap. The video is told in sign language with accompanying subtitles and aims to pose – and answer – some important questions about sexual violence that deaf survivors may have:

What can one do in case of sexual violence? How does one identify it? What if a family member is the assailant? What are one’s rights at the police station and after?

The woman who’s asking the questions is Jisha. She was born deaf and now teaches sign language. Charu, who attempts to answer her questions as simply as possible, is also an instructor.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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