Health - Sexually Abused Deaf Students

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Updated June 18, 2014.

When it comes to sexual abuse, deaf students are especially vulnerable to being abused by either older deaf children or school staff. These children may not be able to talk, their parents may not be able to communicate with them in sign language, and they may not have the language to be able to communicate about incidents, or even to be able to understand what has happened. Many students have been abused at schools for the deaf around the globe, resulting in several lawsuits.

Some Schools

Sexual abuse has taken place at schools/programs for the deaf for many years. To date, these schools are known to have had sexual abuse incidents:
  • Amherst School for the Deaf/Halifax School for the Deaf, in Canada
  • Arkansas School for the Deaf
  • Governor Baxter School for the Deaf in Maine
  • Jericho Hill School for the Deaf in Canada
  • Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf/Central North Carolina School for the Deaf (closed)
  • Margaret Sterck School for the Deaf, Delaware
  • South Africa - Limpopo school for the deaf
  • Washington School for the Deaf - This school has been the subject of an entire newspaper series by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  • Oregon School for the Deaf
  • St. Rita School for the Deaf in Ohio (alleged)

It is not just residential schools for the deaf that have problems with sexual abuse. Deaf students in day programs are just as vulnerable. I know because I'm aware of at least one incident involving a day student.

As the problem became more widespread, special treatment programs for both victims and perpetrators were made available at places such as the National Deaf Academy in Florida.

Protection for Deaf Students

How can parents, teachers, and schools protect deaf students from sexual abuse, and prevent deaf students from abusing other deaf students? Of course there is the usual advice--tell children about good touch/bad touch, the importance of reporting an incident immediately, and saying no, but how do you address the special needs of a deaf child with limited language? Schools for the deaf are trying to tighten up security and monitor students more closely, but as any parent knows, it is impossible to be there every minute (and funding problems for schools for the deaf may make it difficult to provide adequate supervision).

More on Abuse Incidents Involving Deaf Students

  • "Abuse Widespread at Schools for the Deaf Nationwide" - Special report by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (published in 2001). Complete details on incidents at most of the above-named schools.
  • Abuse of Deaf Students at Jericho Hill School - Canadian government (Ombudsman of British Columbia)report on sexual abuse at this school. November 1993.
  • Info to Go: Behavioral Disabilities - This bibliography from the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center has some articles on sexual abuse of deaf students. Articles on the topic have been published in Hearing Health and American Annals of the Deaf.
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