Ni Gallant: My response to ‘The ‘R’ word’

Posted on July 4, 2012



Last week Emily Howlett wrote a piece that struck a personal chord with me, entitled “The R Word – Why we Need to Start Talking About It”. The article discusses rape and the attitudes towards rape of different groups of people including the Deaf community.
I thought it was an interesting article because, as Emily rightly points out – rape is something that, understandably, is just not spoken about. I thought some of her reasonings for why perhaps rape is a difficult topic of discussion for deaf people made perfect sense and many of her points were things a number of my friends have had to consider, and overcome, in the past.I also thought that her comments about the fear felt by Deaf women around the issue of how and when to report rape or sexual assault were very interesting.

I have never come across (although there may be one!) a charity dedicated to only helping deaf victims of abuse. Many charities offer phone line counseling for victims which is completely inappropriate for deaf people and would be very difficult to access.
As well as this, Emily’s points about the closeness of the Deaf community making reporting rape even more difficult really hit home with me. The Deaf community is a world where almost everyone knows everyone and you often have mutual friends in common with other deaf people. I suppose it’s a similar feeling to having 100 people in your school year and being sexually assaulted by one of those 100 people. You have to see this person, and all the other people 5 days a week, have lessons with them and socialise with them. Imagine how hard it would be to admit to having been sexually assaulted – particularly if this was denied by the other person. An impossible situation.This post is a few of my thoughts and comments upon reading the article – I actually wrote them all down on my phone while they were fresh in my memory because I thought some of them were actually quite interesting and impacted alot on the lives of deaf teenagers in particular.

Firstly, I wanted to draw people’s attention to the incredible statistic that deaf children and young people are 70% more likely to suffer from mental health issues than their hearing peers and around 50% of deaf children and young people are said to suffer from some kind of mental health problem.

Personally, I think this makes perfect sense and I don’t understand why more isn’t being done to address this. Plenty of research shows that deaf young people are more likely to be bullied, abused etc. So why is it that projects specialising in mental health in Deaf young people are still in such early stages?My second thought surrounds Personal and Social Health Education, Tutor or Form times and Citizenship in schools… I don’t know about other areas but here in Worcestershire if you see your Teacher of the Deaf frequently this is most likely to be organised over one of the previously mentioned lessons.

While this on the surface seems sensible (you could argue these lessons are less crucial than Maths or English perhaps) this often means that as a deaf teenager you miss out on a wide range of topics and information which is presented to all teenagers through these lessons.
These topics and information include: sexual health (STIs etc), relationships, teen pregnancy, drugs, bullying, mental health… The list is endless, I could go on for hours!
As well as this much of this valuable information is often presented in a completely inaccessible way. I remember the frustration of struggling through hours of YouTube clips and unsubtitled videos where the characters had strange accents and all the information was given quickly and without thought for Deaf young people.It’s little wonder that Deaf teens are considered more likely to drink, take drugs, get pregnant etc… I mean really, what do people expect when the information about all these issues is just not there in an accessible format! Deaf young people need leaflets, booklets, fact sheets with clear and concise relevant information rather than garbled videos with no subtitles or fast paced group discussion.

I think a great example of this lack of “information” is the knowledge about “sexual language” of deaf teens. I know in the past one parent of a deaf teenager has approached me with concerns about their teenage daughters lack of understanding but as well as this I can draw on my own painfully embarrassing experiences of being the last person to understand the terms LGBT, or f**k. Hearing children and young people learn these phrases often in the play-ground or lunch hall by word of mouth and overhearing other people’s discussions. Yet for many deaf children and young people this is not possible – or certainly more difficult than for other hearing peers!

The net result, from my point of view, is that deaf teenagers have a biological understanding of “sex” and “gender” as this part of the curriculum is taught in an accessible way… and often go on to have little social understanding of “sex” and the dreaded topic of teenage relationships…Apologies for the rather depressing nature of this post… But I hope it’s given a few people “food for thought” as such. I don’t think enough emphasis is put on the need for better Personal Social and Health Education for deaf teens but there is a definite need! We’re not just statistics, we’re young people who apart from not being able to hear so well, carry out normal, functioning lives! Why should we be deprived the information and access we need as teenagers in order to inform our selves on issues affecting us?

Here are a number of links to sites/charities/information that I’ve found over the years 🙂

National Deaf CAMHS (Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services).

Deaf E.A.R.S – education and advice on relationships and sexual health for deaf people in sign language or speech, subtitled videos etc.

Sign Health – information on mental and physical well-being

NDCS Buzz – information about a range of issues including bullying, family and school aimed at deaf children and teenagers.

This article was first published on Ni’s blog: http://nigallant.blogspot.co.uk/

Ni is a deaf teen in mainstream school. This year she was on the NDCS Youth Advisory Board and as well as this she runs a Youth Group for Worcestershire deaf teens called “Deafinity.” She started writing a blog (www.nigallant.blogspot.com) a couple of months ago about life from a deaf teenagers perspective and says that “somehow what I said resonates with other young people – so I carried on!”

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Posted in: ni gallant, opinion