Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims

Posted on February 1, 2016

.

Erin Esposito

Our agency is Deaf-centered, survivor-centered, trauma-informed, gender neutral and strengths-based. We deeply value the time, energy and work that survivors bring to our organization. In our early years, most Deaf survivors came to us for support with domestic violence issues. As a result of ongoing support, advocacy, and counseling provided to these survivors, nearly all of our clients have disclosed experience with child sexual abuse. The crisis in our community is quite evident—the numbers speak for themselves.

The Challenge: The rates of sexual abuse of Deaf children are significantly greater than those of hearing children. Despite this fact, structural inequity and bias have resulted in mainstream resources that do not meet the needs and rights of Deaf children and ignore the collective power of Deaf people to create change in our own community.

The Solution: Address child sexual abuse in the Deaf community through a Community Accountability model and bring the wisdom and experience of the Deaf community to the larger movement to end child sexual abuse.

The Strategy: Create a Community Accountability model—designed and led by survivors—for responding to and preventing child sexual abuse in the Deaf community. This project provides an opportunity for survivors to share their stories—many for the first time in their lives—and is informed by the people who are most directly affected by child sexual abuse. The prevailing models for bystander intervention are very individualized; our intention is to design preventive measures that help each member of our community become an advocate and that hold us all collectively responsible for ending child sexual abuse. As part of its survivor-centered accountability work, ASADV is raising awareness and educating the community; shifting prevention of child sexual abuse and accountability from children to adults; and engaging in policy advocacy and social media campaigns.

The project builds on ASADV’s Deaf Community Accountability program for addressing domestic violence that has proven highly effective across the country. It has given ASADV deep knowledge and experience dealing with perpetrators, which has shifted and evolved over time from the position that abusers should be expelled from the community to a process that engages perpetrators as a part of crafting solutions and allows them to re-earn trust from survivors and other members of the community. This model gives community members the tools and resources to support survivors of violence, holds perpetrators accountable, and provides guidelines for media, service providers, government, employers, the justice and education systems, and hearing allies. ASADV also works to challenge the discomfort and fear that disclosing and addressing sexual violence will put our cherished institutions and Deaf-specific gathering places at risk.


Erin W. Esposito, MS.SEd, is a Deaf survivor of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. She is the Executive Director of Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims (ASADV), based in Rochester, NY. Additionally, Erin works as a lecturer at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She received both her MS in Secondary Education of the Deaf and her BS in Professional and Technical Communication from RIT/NTID.

Erin has served as a consultant to the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Victimization and Safety on a number of projects including, but not limited to, the collaboration with the Ms. Foundation for Women to address sexual abuse of children with disabilities. In March 2013, Erin participated in a legislative briefing on Capitol Hill, where she shared her personal story of experiencing childhood sexual abuse and called for the implementation of community accountability as a strategy to help address and prevent future instances of child sexual abuse. She is frequently sought out to present on issues related to child sexual abuse, especially those impacting the Deaf community, on local, national and international levels.


The mission of Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims (ASADV) is to provide support to the Deaf community and to Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing individuals, families and children who are or have been victims/survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. We offer a safe and supportive environment of advocacy, empowerment, community education and training services. All of our staff are Deaf. All of our staff, advocates and volunteers are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). It is our vision that the various components of ASADV be Deaf-run and be advocates within institutionalized systems. We work cooperatively with various Deaf and hearing-based agencies.

.