By Joanne Greenberg
Deaf men are overly represented in prison for the commission of sex crimes. They are therefore more often the targets of prison cruelty from guards and other prisoners. I think this is the result of a closed world of Deafness, itself. We know that sex offenders are more usually made than born, having been assaulted themselves, during childhood. Other, bigger kids, in residential schools for the Deaf, rape girls and boys, and they have to encounter their tormentors throughout the school year – and often through life. Bullies can act with impunity. Who would tell on them, when there is no safe haven or refuge?
One sex abuser I know is, himself Deaf, and has been a teacher at a school for the Deaf. He abused many of his students. When finally charged with a rape, he did everything he could to impede the authorities – demanding different interpreters and declaring that without an interpreter suitable to his needs, and a lawyer fluent in Sign – not only Signed English, but also demotic ASL – he was not receiving equal justice.
Many minority individuals distrust the law so much that they will endure almost anything before calling “outside” for help. It’s only when the Deaf offender leaves that world – and commits offenses in the hearing world – that the offense comes to the attention of the law. By then however, the offender has habits that are entrenched and chronic. It’s not only a lack of knowledge of Deaf language and psychology that keeps Deaf prisoners far longer than hearing ones in prison, it is also the chronic nature of their offenses which makes for far longer sentences.
Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.
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