I’m guilty of it and perhaps even a coward. In this diverse and ever-changing society, I often pride myself on not only being aware of the various cultural, age, and socio-economic differences that all of us have, but my ability to embrace them and consider all aspects of each in everything that I do. That is, of course, until I consider that there may be some groups whose specific needs I ignore because I don’t know if bringing their needs up in conversation is polite or, dare I say, “politically correct.” I find myself hesitant to question an elder about their safety concerns for fear that they will get offended that I am calling them “old.” Most alarming, I find myself ignoring the needs of the deaf community, to which members of my family belong, all because I am hesitant to admit that those needs may be different than my own. However, as recent articles have revealed to me, the time for hesitation has passed, and the time for all-inclusive crime prevention planning and action is now.
According to a report by the National Institute of Justice, victims of sexual assault who are deaf face unique concerns and barriers not often experienced by hearing victims, such as the double-stereotype that comes with being a rape victim and being deaf. This, compounded with a lack of awareness of deafness among hearing people, may discourage victims from reporting sexual assault or seeking necessary help. The key barrier to obtaining victim assistance or reporting the crime was, unsurprisingly, communication. However, what is surprising is that the report revealed that victims who are deaf experience a great deal of frustration when attempting to dial 911 to report a crime, only to find that the operator is unclear on how to operate a Text Telephone (TTY) machine, or that they were mislabeled as being drunk or mentally ill when stopped by a police officer who interpreted their body language as being aggressive.
Ironically, the only way to improve ineffective communication is in fact, to communicate. Providing adequate training on TTY machines and possibly starting crime prevention units for people who are deaf (such as in the Minneapolis Police Department) are just a few steps that can be taken to bridge the apparent gap between the two communities. Ultimately, the simplest step in involving the deaf community in crime prevention could simply be to start the conversation.