The Blog

I Am a Deaf Survivor, Last Week, I Wore Purple For Others Like Me

Language is key. Who says your perpetuator has to be in the frame? Why not yourself? Is it not more empowering to say, 'I am a survivor' without referring once to them by name, or identifiable detail? If their behaviour was that criminal, surely other people would work that out for themselves?

Purple is the colour of a bruise. Its fade into yellowish obscurity symbolizes the all-too-common predicament of a domestic abuse victim without a voice. The irony of purple also being the shade of proud kings - a status as visible as you can get - is not beyond me.

Deep purple is not a colour that many people have the confidence to wear. So it made sense for DAWN, a crisis intervention service for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Washington, to mark #DEAFPurpleThursday by wearing purple to highlight the plight of deaf abuse victims during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

That day, I also came out as a survivor on Facebook. It was not an easy decision to make, but it needed to be done.

Domestic abuse is never 'between two people'. It wrecks families, relationships, friendships, self-esteem, wellbeing, trust, your children, grandchildren. Many examples of domestic abuse get passed on through generations because it has been normalized through assumptions that 'it's a family matter'.

Today domestic abuse is recognized as a criminal offence, yet Women's Aid quotes a British Crime Survey statistic that less than 40% of domestic abuse crime is reported. Far too many victims become invisible because of the fear of being misread as attention-seeking, not being believed (surprisingly common), being accused of mob justice, getting hospitalized or worse, killed.

I decided to not be one of them. Saying I am a survivor is not the same as making an open accusation. I have given no details of the abuse here: the who, the what, the where, the when, the how. You are free to make your own judgment. I am simply saying that this is my reality. To deny me it would constitute endorsement of my perpetuator's culture.

People are complex; so is domestic abuse. It's so intertwined with human nature and intimacy that reaching a position of clear-eyed objectivity is near-impossible for victims.

Mick Philpott is only an extreme instance. Many perpetuators escape police scrutiny because of how they present themselves to the rest of society. They could dress or speak well; they could come across as honest people, full of integrity and charm. Denial has many faces, but one thing many perpetuators have in common is the often coercive lengths they go to disguise their criminal actions.

This is why physical violence rarely happens in a vacuum. A believable facade has to be constructed first; one that is perhaps thoughtful or caring, effectively grooming the victim for psychological control.

Once 'achieved' (for want of a better word), domestic abuse becomes a constant presence within the household, its negative influence sucking children, families, and even the victims themselves into a spiral of destructiveness from which they feel unable to escape.

For deaf abuse victims, the barriers to freedom are even greater. In a democracy where fair justice must prevail, finding a way of asserting your own right to a life free of torture becomes harder within the Deaf Community when your perpetrator has not been found guilty.

The British Deaf Association claims that there are 156,000 British Sign Language (BSL) users, indicating that BSL/Deaf Community members are more likely to be familiar with both perpetrator and victim - and in some cases even their relationship histories - further exacerbating fears of reporting domestic abuse.

Sometimes sharing the vaguest details places the victim at greater risk of being renounced by their Deaf friends, not to mention more threats of abuse. According to DeafHope, the UK's first anti-domestic abuse service for Deaf people, Deaf women are twice as likely as hearing women to suffer domestic abuse. 22 Deaf women are estimated to be at risk of domestic abuse every day. No wonder Deaf victims feel so isolated.

The natural expressiveness of BSL brings its own set of problems. You cannot hide your emotions behind sign language quite like you can with the written word. On #DEAFPurpleThursday, I thought about coming out as a survivor in BSL, but my memories were too raw. Only time can tell if I do find an appropriate way to express myself in this way.

I am lucky. As a bilingual (BSL/Spoken English) Deaf person and trained journalist, I possess a high standard of written English. It has taken me a relatively short time to work out how to avoid coming across as hysterical or inclined to verbal mud-slinging - which is precisely the kind of alienating behaviour that my perpetrator would want everyone to see.

Language is key. Who says your perpetuator has to be in the frame? Why not yourself? Is it not more empowering to say, 'I am a survivor' without referring once to them by name, or identifiable detail? If their behaviour was that criminal, surely other people would work that out for themselves? The irony of sustained long-term denial is how it manifests itself, however extraordinarily diverse the perpetuators' actions.

Many survivors find that friends had their suspicions a long time ago, but out of respect for privacy, couldn't share their thoughts. Surely that is further incentive to come out as a survivor, and maintain an appropriately dignified silence otherwise.

That I have not publicly named my perpetuator is good, as was the flagging up of my own plight last week. It matters not a jot that #DEAFPurpleThursday was dedicated to deaf abuse victims in Washington DC - I live in Buckinghamshire - or that it was only for one day. The principle is the same.

I took pride in wearing deep purple - the colour of my favourite dress - and used the confidence boost as motivation. Being unafraid to show vulnerability is a strength that my perpetuator will never know, for as long as he remains in denial.

By presenting myself as a survivor, I hope to improve reports of domestic abuse from other deaf people (men suffer domestic abuse too, as do LGBT people), and give them the confidence to come out too. In time, hopefully, offenders then become weak bullies fit only for prison or preferably rehabilitation, and you remember us as visions of strength in purple.