A little break from your regular programming today…. I know that this blog is normally focused on all things deaf/student, but today I’m going to take a break from that, and discuss something that, unfortunately, many deaf people will experience in their lifetime in one form or another, whether students or not.
I’ve experienced two types of abuse in my life. I’m going to discuss both here, although there are many types of abuse and just because it’s not discussed here, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist at all and that I’m not validating your experience.
This post has largely been triggered by me reading a great (and highly recommended) blog written by Melissa Mostyn, I am a Deaf Survivor, over on Huffpost, where she discusses domestic abuse in deaf people, including the shocking (but not surprising) statistic that deaf women are twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse than hearing women.
Domestic abuse – that is, abuse between partners. The stereotype for this is males abusing females, although it is important to recognise that this is not always the case, that it can be women abusing men, or men abusing me, or women abusing women. Abuse can happen regardless of the audiological status of the particpants involved, although in this I’m tending to focus more on the abusee being deaf. In my case, my abuser, a previous partner, was hearing. He would use my hearing loss to his advantage. He would say horrible things behind my back, then when I turned to ask what he’d said, he would say something different, so smoothly, that friends would later tell me that they would doubt their own ears, that – in the beginning – they would convince themselves that they had misheard what he said. Later, they would compare notes, away from us both, and they began to realise what was going on. He would try to seperate me from anyone who he felt was a threat to his control of me. My family, for example. I distinctly remember me finding my old diary from when i was around 13, and showing him a part of it. His reaction was to say that my parents had been abusing me, from what I had written. His abuse of me was never violent. I was – I am – a strong woman and I would never have countenanced him laying into me, and I think he knew that. That’s a very clear line with me. You deliberately hit me, you’re out the door. That’s the stereotype, and in believing that stereotype, I was left vulnerable. His abuse of me was far more insidious. Telling lies, making me believe that people were bad for me when they were actually good, that they had said something that they had not. Isolating me, but only in such a way that it wasn’t clearly evident to me, getting rid of people who had become too close, or were too much of a threat to his control of me. Undermining my self-confidence, making me doubt myself – and all of this was made vastly easier by my deafness. When you’re deaf, you know that you hear things wrong. You know that you miss things. You know that you can’t hear on the phone. So you ask for help. The sheer nature of deafness and the problems with communication mean that you have to trust those around you – and sadly, sometimes, people take advantage of that trust, as they did with me.
What people also must remember is that the experience can be made worse for a deaf abusee in other ways as well. If they are a part of the deaf community, and their abuser is too, then there are problems inherent in telling the community about what’s going on – much like telling a family when abuse is going on, it upsets the people around you to think that someone that they love can do these things. In addition, deafness is isolating from the larger world. Avenues of help – so often primarily focused on the telephone – are limited for deaf people. Help that is available through sign language is rarer. Access to emergency help is slower – yes, you can text 999 but how much can you do that when someone is beating the life out of you?
If you feel that someone in your life is abusing you, then speak to someone about it. It doesn’t have to be the police. If you’re unsure, ask someone. A friend, a university counsellor, even religious figure you trust like a rabbi or a priest, or your doctor. if necessary, things will happen after that. That step though, that first step is the hardest. I know from experience – I ended up going to the police in my case – and walking into that station to tell the police officer what had been going on was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But when I did, they listened, they believed me. That was worth more to me, than when he was sent to prison. I realised that all the lies he had been telling me for years were not true, that I was not stupid or ugly. My healing began at that moment.
Abuse within Institutions
I’ve written before about the bullying I received at the hands of people I was at school with. I’ve always stopped short of calling it abuse. But I realised something yesterday. I was looking at facebook, I stumbled across the facebook account of someone I knew from those days who had many of that same group of people friended on facebook. I was stunned to see that many of them had the rainbow filters on. They were supporting the principle of gay marriage.
Much of my abuse was linked to things that had happened when I was trying to figure out my sexuality in my teenage years. What my sexuality is now is irrelevant and noone’s business anyway, so I’m not putting it down here. But to see these people who had made my teenager years a living hell on the basis of the label that THEY assigned me, regardless of whether it was one that I felt was right for me, made me very very angry. It is clear to me that what is happening is that the underlying beliefs haven’t changed, that what has changed is the public acceptabiilty of those beliefs. Like sheep, they follow the crowd, and now support for homosexuality is cool, they behave accordingly. They are, nothing more, nothing less, than a bunch of hypocrites. I want to call them out by name but…. like Melissa, I feel that saying what happened, that I am a Survivor is more important than outting them as the hypocrites they are.
My past isn’t so important at the moment. This is what is: by giving abuse in places like schools a different name – bullying – there is a tendency to see it as being lesser, somehow, than the imagery that springs to mind when the word abuse is used. Let me say this clearly: BULLYING IS ABUSE. The relationship is different, sure, and sometimes it is less pervasive than in, say, domestic abuse or sexual abuse, but the effects are not. Systematic, long-term bullying by a child or a group of children towards another child is abuse, plain and simple, and it is important that this is recognised so that the effects in the survivor can be dealt with. I suffered years of low self-confidence – I still do – and personal doubt because of what happened when I was a teenager and I am absolutely convinced that what I had been through as a teenager made it vastly easier for my ex-partner to abuse me as an adult.
If this is you, if you are a student reading this, and you feel that you are being bullied by other students, whether adult or not – TELL SOMEONE. Tell a teacher, a counsellor. If they don’t listen, tell someone else. Keep telling people until someone DOES listen. This shouldn’t happen to you, it is not a normal part of life, and has to stop. And no matter what, don’t listen, don’t believe what they’re saying to you. Make sure you get help in dealing with the effects of it all.
The long and short of it – no matter what, tell someone. get help. You can move past this. When I got the ex-partner out of my life, it took years to get past what had happened, to heal, but eventually I went back to university, and look where I am now. Someone who holds a first class degree, getting distinctions at Masters level, and working to start a PhD. Not bad for someone who used to think of herself as being “stupid”, because of what he’d said.
The help is out there – find it, use it. It will be tough – I don’t deny that, but it CAN be done. Things can be changed. If someone is making your life a misery – tell someone, get help, stop the abuse. And always remember that the fault is theirs, not yours, no matter what.