Violence Against Deaf Women on Campus

This article was sent to me in response to the People Magazine article I posted here a few days ago. Thanks to Julie Rems-Smario, Executive Director, DeafHope

Julie will soon be sending me a video presentation on this topic, created with Wayne Betts, Jr, which I will post here at bibliomarket when it’s completed.

(excerpts from Julie Rems-Smario June 2005 lunch note presentation at California Alliance Against Sexual Assault conference in Louisville, Kentucky)

During Fall of 2000, two young male students were brutally murdered in the dorm rooms at Gallaudet University, the nation’s only university for the deaf located in Washington, D.C. The third and fourth violent deaths in the university’s 136 -year history led to increased security and limited dorm access. This tragic campus incident made parents, faculty, and students more vocal about student safety. Even with crime rates relatively low, Gallaudet University had become diligent about keeping campus safe from violence by investing thousands of dollars in technology and security.

In November 2001, Gallaudet University President was quoted during his interview with Inside Gallaudet, “I cannot emphasize enough that Gallaudet has an exceptionally safe campus. As I said in my presentation, the murders last year were an aberration, tragic events that are very far from the norm. They did stimulate the University to look closely at security and safety on campus in general, and to institute some measures that will help us remain safe. I have asked Mr. Fred Kendrick to send an e-mail to the campus that summarizes the key elements of the safety and security plan developed for review by the CMT, as well as plans for how new security measures are being assessed and plans for the future.”

Gallaudet University’s Diversity and Community Relations Committee Action Plan created a long term action plan for everyone in the community to feel safe by changing and improving the campus policies. Campus security officers are mandated to improve their sign language fluency, provide students with adequate information regarding their cases, distribute to the campus community a manual detailing policies and procedures, inform individuals’ their rights when involved in an investigation. The action plan also included hiring a full time advocate for students, faculty, and staff. There is a heavy emphasis on gender, racial and religion tolerance in this action plan. However, issues on assault against women seem to be sketchy.

In a article from 2003 Women’s eNews, a Gallaudet staff who conducted a study on how male and female students perceive sexual assault stated, “I’m not convinced that many college students really understand when their rights have been violated and that they don’t feel they’re at least somewhat to blame,” says Clark. She is conducting a study on how male and female students perceive sexual assault. She said that the victims are confused about what constitutes rape and universities often fail to inform them on the issue. Thus, Gallaudet University needs an aggressive campaign to raise awareness and create new social norms regarding sexual violence.

One of Gallaudet University administrators shared his views on violence against women. He said that he cannot think of any violent incidents against women on Gallaudet University campus, because he did not see or hear about it. He emphasized that Gallaudet University protects female faculties, staff and students, because the university enforces federal laws by providing resources about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment workshops are regularly provided for everyone. He believes that there are no barriers for the deaf survivors, because Gallaudet University generated policies regarding sexual harassment. Additionally, he said that over 85 security video cameras are installed campus wide, especially in the parking lot areas, and 50 more videos will be installed this year. Also, there are 75 blue light system on the campus with cameras placed below to allow the dispatcher to see the victim, evaluate the situation, and send the campus security if necessary.

Recognizing that technology and increased security are not enough to prevent sexual assault incidents on campus, a young undergraduate student said that she would like to see a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and an on-campus peer advocacy services for the survivors of sexual violence. Some of the women on Gallaudet University campus, both students and faculty, pointed out that the key administrators are out of touch with the realities of sexual assault happening on campus. They would like to see Gallaudet University incorporate an aggressive campus-wide social campaign to promote sexual assault awareness. Additionally, the students expressed concerns that some of the blue light dispatchers’ are not able to communicate fluently in American Sign Language. Another woman, who is an alumni of Gallaudet University agreed and said, “It is a good time to take a serious look on how to eradicate violence against women by listening to the rape survivors without judgment and empowering them with the choices they have to heal from the sexual assault trauma”.

Aggressive social campaign about sexual violence is evident on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), which has the second largest deaf post secondary school student population in the nation (Gallaudet University has the largest college student population). The Women’s Center was established on RIT campus 6 years ago under the directorship of Julie White, funded by Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. The funding is used for sexual assault victim advocacy, trainings, performances, sponsoring events in collaboration with students and faculty/staff, research on campus climate, and development of social norms campaign. This project included hiring a deaf advocate, Diana Cho, to work with deaf students on campus.

“This project has helped create a positive impact on the students’ perception on sexual violence” Diane said about her work. Since the inception of The Women’s Center, the number of reported sexual assault incidents reported by deaf survivors had increased at RIT. The reports of sexual assault increased, because the deaf students are more aware about available resources and have become more comfortable about reporting their sexual assault incidents. The deaf survivors are able to seek for assistance from a nonjudgmental peer advocate in their own language, American Sign Language. Diana’s role with the deaf survivors is to help ensure comfort and safety, work with them in filing a report with Campus Safety, serve as resource provider to connect them with other services such as counseling, and provide system advocacy in the hearing services run by the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Services.

A deaf woman who graduated from Gallaudet University’s Mental Health Counseling graduate school would like to see program similar to RIT’s The Women’s Center established on Gallaudet University campus. She stated that “Many students here at Gallaudet University carry myths about sexual assault, which often lead them to support the rapists rather than the victims. Some of faculty, counselors and administrators often are oblivious to the violence issues against women due to lack of social campaign. This social issue can be easily fixed, because of Gallaudet University’s proximity to a wonderful deaf domestic and sexual violence agency known as Deaf Abused Women Network (DAWN)”.

7 thoughts on “Violence Against Deaf Women on Campus

  1. University of Chicago is one of the most progressive and proactive campus against sexual assault. I have worked with the people with there before. They have outstanding materials we can utilize and adapt for Gallaudet University as well as other universities such as CSUN.

    Check this website:

    Thanks to Diana Cho for reminding me about this website. She no longer works at RIT as an advocate for dv/sv survivors. Now she works for Vera Institute doing great work with Office On Violence Against Women with Disabilities and Deaf Women.

    Diana suggested that Gallaudet University should contact CALCASA ( and inquire about applying for an OVW grant under Violence Against Women on Campus. Also I need to thank Diana Cho for reminding me about University of Chicago’s outstanding website.



  2. the font is preset by the software i use to blog. i cannot change it because it’s a presert template. however, you can make the fonts larger on this and any web page across the internet simply using keystroke combinations. i do not know what the combination is on a windows machine, but on my mac, i press shift-control and then the + key. each press of the + key increases the font size.


  3. I’m having a heck of a time reading all this against a black background.. can you change the color and make the fonts bolder.. you have a lot of good stuff to say but it is difficult to keep reading here.. or maybe just make the fonts bolder.


  4. It’s good that they have a way to monitor public spaces with cameras, lights etc. — BUT most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. And, although I haven’t seen numbers on this, I would guess that most probably happen in dorm rooms or other spaces without cameras.

    What we really need is better safety training on campus (BOTH how to avoid dangerous situations AND ALSO self defense classes on how to defend yourself physically if you get attacked anyway); more entertainment options on campus that do not involve alcohol (sexual assault is more likely to happen when one or both parties have been drinking); and a more aggressive campaign led by men, among men, to implement a zero-tolerance culture toward sexual assault (e.g, slogan: “real men don’t rape” etc)

    Most security measures assume that a stranger is the perpetuator. But as the murders of ’00 and ’01 should have taught us, most perpetuators are ALREADY AMONG US. Thus, standard measures targeted at strangers ARE NOT ADEQUATE to screen out the majority of actual perpetuators. Not to scare people needlessly or to create a climate of excess paranoia, but we do need to be conscious of that fact because we CANNOT implement effective measures until we take it into full account.


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