The unaddressed rape of deaf women
Last March 12 marked six years to the day when the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), issued its findings upholding the complaint of R, a deaf minor, versus the Philippine state regarding her rape case. Up to now, there has been no formal response received from the government.
Fourteen years ago, R was raped in her home by a hearing neighbor. After five difficult years, her criminal case ended in acquittal. She eventually filed a Communication through the Cedaw Optional Protocol against the Philippines for violating her rights on the basis of gender, disability, and age.
The violence experienced by R is tragically not uncommon. The Philippine Deaf Resource Center (PDRC) documented over 346 deaf cases from 2006 to 2012. Two-thirds of the cases involved deaf female complainants, with rape outnumbering other charges by a ratio of 10:1. The PDRC estimates that 1 out of 3 deaf women is raped, and 65-70 percent of deaf girls are molested. Preliminary information on some deaf Muslim women shows that as high as 1 out of 2 ends up a victim of sexual violence.
The Cedaw Committee specifically recommended to the Philippines that R be given reparation for her case, and be provided counseling therapy and a resumption of her education through sign language. It further asked the Philippine state to review legislation on rape on the critical issue of consent, particularly in the context of women with disabilities; ensure accessibility through sign language interpreting at all stages of legal proceedings; eliminate all stereotypes and prejudice relating to gender, disability, and age; and give adequate and regular training to all judicial and legal personnel.
After over one-and-a-half decades that the PDRC has painstakingly fought for accessibility case by case and attempted to raise awareness on this issue, there are still no such institutional policies in the Department of Justice or in the local Katarungang Pambarangay. Despite numerous engagements with the judiciary, there has been very little comprehensive reform instituted.
The leaders of the Filipino Deaf Women’s Health and Crisis Center (FDWHCC) and the Philippine Federation of the Deaf have been lobbying for over two decades now over these injustices. The FDWHCC even attempted to run a deaf women’s shelter a decade ago, because both public and private shelters were virtually closed to deaf victims. Deaf girls and women have acquired additional psychosocial disabilities, and some were even committed to mental health institutions because of the unaddressed trauma of their sexual violence.
At the Cedaw review of the Philippines in Geneva in 2016, the violence against R was used to underscore the situation of women with disabilities, and all other marginalized women: indigenous, LBT, domestic/migrant working women, and those living with HIV/AIDS. In 2017, the German Ministry of Social Welfare invited the Philippine Alliance of Women with Disabilities to expound on their experience of inclusion in the women’s movement.
As the nation celebrates the 2017-2022 theme of “Make Change Work for Women,” are deaf women and girls also celebrating? Sadly, no. Despite the efforts of the Philippine Commission on Women and the Commission on Human Rights, the real sustainable change so far has come largely from bootstrapping efforts of deaf and other women with disabilities themselves.
The complexity of the violence against deaf girls involves intersectional violations along the simultaneous perspectives of gender, disability, and age. Deaf girls are unable to fight for their rights because the State itself is virtually the originator of disrespect for the right to accessibility of the entire deaf community. Programs and activities by the State for women, and girls in general, largely leave out deaf girls and women.
If we want to “Make Change Work,” then CHANGE (Compassionate and Harmonized Actions and Networks for Gender Equality) must be made real for all girls and women.
Liza B. Martinez, Ph.D., is a sign language linguist.
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