A new study finds that deaf children are abused at higher rates than their peers. In a survey of over 400 college students, researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) found hearing-impaired respondents were more than twice as likely to report childhood sexual and physical abuse than hearing respondents. Participants with more severe hearing loss reported an increased rate and severity of abuse.
Lead researcher Lindsay Schenkel is a professor of psychology at RIT. She says research on abuse among deaf and hard-of-hearing children is an emerging field; and she is interested in finding out more about who the perpetrators are, and which children are most vulnerable.
Staff at the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance say they are familiar with this issue. The agency provides forensic interviews and support for child victims of sexual abuse. Associate Director Jackie Blatt Goldstein says deaf children are more easily victimized:
“They are not as readily able to communicate their experiences to other people,” said Goldstein. “You would have to find somebody who is able to communicate in American Sign Language, and so they are targeted more often.”
Goldstein says child sexual abuse is always underreported, and when hearing impairments are involved, there’s an added barrier.
“There’s concern that okay if we do report to the system, they are not equipped to communicate with this child, so giving the message that we have a process in place that’s been researched that is supported, that will meet their needs, it alleviates their anxiety and hopefully will encourage people to report when they suspect abuse,” said Goldstein.
The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance is partnering with providers for deaf children to develop protocols to serve this community better. The group is also training additional sign language interpreters to help during forensic interviews.