Sunday, 26 June 2016

Deaf Dawn

Washington DC not only has the only university catering for Deaf students but also has a unique service for deaf people who have suffered from domestic abuse. There are very few services of this nature in the world and even fewer that serve the Deaf community. Dawn is a very rare and very inspirational non profit organisation run by an all deaf team based in a quiet corner of DC. At first look, you could miss it, if not for the registered address on the front of the purple painted building labeled with 'healing services'. It is situated on a very quiet road, with a few metro stops, right next to a Police Station. On first arrival, it reminded me very much of a doctors waiting room, with hand drawn art on the walls, pamphlets and translations of services into different languages. The building is shared, with Dawn taking up the majority of the office space.

Shazia Siddiqi, the Executive Director, of Dawn came to meet us and she gave us the run down of the organisation and what their work consists of. She explained to us about the company, the services they provide and also about the abuse they encounter. She only finger spelt abuse despite their being two signs for the word and explained that the visuality of the signs could trigger upset in the survivors. Finger spelling the word conjures up no images other than the English word and is therefore, a safe alternative used by the staff. Their services included workshops for the outside community, aiming to spread awareness and educate both the hearing  and deaf worlds on the forms of abuse that can happen to a survivor. The women are not named as victims, which has connotations of negativity and vulnerability but survivors, a positive reminder that they have overcome.

Dawn works closely with Gallaudet University as the biggest group of deaf people in the area, especially since those at university age are the ones most at risk of abuse. They also educate the male gender on how to identify abuse. One in two deaf women and one in six deaf men will be victims of abuse at some point in their lives, a figure that shocked me. Dawn is obviously a service that is greatly needed and has a high turnover of people who contact their services- around one hundred people a year.  As for the actual services that they provide, Shazia answered that their motto is 'person centered support', meaning that whatever the survivor needed or wanted they would provide Sometimes, the person just wanted to talk or other times they needed help from the police or in a court setting. One of their main policies was a 'safety plan', where the survivor would leave a packed bag with money, clothes and supplies with a relative or friend, so that if she needed to escape or took the decision to leave, there was a back up plan.

StatsGraphic-1 copy
The office had posters of this displayed on the walls as well as a multitude of children's toys stashed away under the table. Before walking into the office, I had expected that the topic of the meeting we were about to have was not to be a happy one. The wheel pictured above details the forms of abuse that a person, more specifically, a deaf person can suffer. The interesting aspect is the section termed 'hearing priviledge' stating the possible abuse that a person could suffer linked to their deafness and language choice. Shazia explained that Dawn is a deaf led service for people who use ASL as their preferred language, all the staff are deaf and use ASL as their first language. This made me think about the deaf people who do not use ASL and I asked Shazia where the oral contingency turn to. Shazia answered that their services are open to anyone whether they signed or not, showing nothing of the divide between oral deaf people and a big D Deaf. Most of the information given surprised and shocked me. We found out that there are two types of abusers, the Pit bull which is the typical image of an abuser: a macho man with the big muscles and then the Cobra: the sly man who manipulates the women he abuses through various means. She did not mention the one in six deaf men who could potentially be abused in their life time. Out of the two types, the Pitbull constitutes fifteen percent  of the abusers whereas the Cobra makes up the remaining eighty five percent of men that commit the abuse. 

The Cobra is by far the most dangerous, cutting off ties the victim has to the outside world, slowly isolating her from her family and loved ones, and destroying her confidence and belief in herself. Seventy five percent of the women who are abused by the Cobra either commit suicide or are killed by the abuser. I asked who are the abusers,  hearing or deaf?  The answer came as both: roughly half the abusers were hearing and half were deaf. Shazia also accentuated that the survivors come from all walks of life, contradicting the popular belief that only those who are abused come from poorer backgrounds. This was not true, with people in high positions in society both falling victim and committing the abuse themselves. 

Only photo we have,
shame it is blurry! 
It suddenly occurred to me how hard it must be for someone to support the survivors and come across all forms of abuse on a daily basis as their job. It made me wonder why someone would choose this as a career path.  Shazia's answer was both interesting and harrowing. She had trained in Community Public Services at University and went on to do a Masters in medicine graduating as a doctor, she reported that she felt the need to give back to the community and found the job at Dawn. She recognizes that her job is difficult and said that the charity has a high turn over of staff because it takes an emotional toll on the staff and after around five years, it gets too much. She said it is also very low pay as the charity is exactly that- a charity, one that relies on the unsteady flow of money from patrons and the government. We got into a conversation about how small the deaf world is and how difficult it must be to remove yourself from a partner. On the odd occasion, she would go to a social event and meet an abuser or a survivor and act like she doesn't know them, doesn't know the horrific details of the case and carry on with a straight face, bound by confidentiality. This must take a mammoth amount of internal strength and professionalism. 

The team were very welcoming, supplying us with lots of information about the organisation and the staff team and after we were saturated with information. we got chatting about  the difference between the Deaf Community here and in England and about BSL, Shazia knowing some herself after spending a year in England. We left the office with a promises of further contact from Shazia, a goodbye hug and information about another charity in Rochester that is similar to Dawn. But what stayed with me the most and will continue to stay with me for a very long time is the the inspiring work of the Dawn team as they try and reduce the shocking number of deaf people that suffer abuse and continue to support the survivors. The Dawn team are truly inspiring and we need more charities of this sort not just catering for the deaf but across the board, advocating for and supporting the diverse range of people that make up the human race. 

Link to website and source for images:

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