One of the most vulnerable minorities around us in the world are those who are Deaf and Blind.
Being Deaf — or just being Blind — is enough of a challenge to survival but those who are hit with both disabilities in the same body are truly the world’s misbegotten and they deserve our highest protection.

There are approximately 40,000 people in the United States who are deafblind.  Hearing and vision are the primary senses through which we learn and collect data.  Hearing is the basis of communication and 80 percent of what we learn is through the visual sense.

In a variety of failures we are not protecting them in their most vulnerable and vital moments.

Many Deaf-Blind people are institutionalized from birth or they live in shared housing communities where their great needs can be better served and that’s where their sexual exploitation begins: In the privacy of their intimate living space.

The threat and enacting of sexual molestation and rape of the Deaf-Blind is the giant, dirty secret that permeates, threatens, and forms the Deaf-Blind experience.

This matter of sexual predators finds its opportunity when a Deaf-Blind person is identified and who lives alone. If the predator is building staff or a stranger, they know the Deaf-Blind will be easy prey for the taking because there is no simple way their victim can testify against them.

The thinking of these predators is courts of law require proof of identification for prosecution and conviction and that most often means identifying a face. A smell isn’t enough proof. A gut feeling won’t lead to a conviction. Recognizing the forms and features of a face with your hands isn’t proof enough for prosecution.

DNA identification helps more today than it did a decade ago, but many of the poorest Deaf-Blind are uneducated, unaware and do not wholly understand the concept of rape or improper touching, let alone the complicated legal matter of a rape kit, DNA and “preserving the evidence” even if they are able to call the police or contact other emergency staff for assistance after the event.

So you have a Deaf-Blind person who is unaware of the danger swirling around them when they are at their most vulnerable. Many supported living conditions require the care recipient provide full, 24-hour, access to their apartments in case of an emergency. That means staff, cleaning crews and other “necessary access” people are able to use the apartment key at will to enter the Deaf-Blind’s independent living

If you are Deaf-Blind, how do you know someone entered your apartment? Sometimes there are bright, flashing, lights and vibrating notification alerts — but those electronic devices are expensive and usually beyond the pocketbook of the Deaf-Blind disabled.

So a stranger, with bad intention, can use your key to enter your apartment at any time — even when you are asleep or showering — and sexually exploit you and then leave, touched, unprosecuted and unrepentant.

You don’t know who violated you. You have no way to stand up in court and point to your molester and say, “He did it.” You are left alone, perhaps beaten and bleeding, in a dark and silent world to try and figure out what just happened.

The Deaf-Blind are not the only victims of this sort of abuse-of-trust.

The infirm elderly, the mentally disabled and those with dementia are also prime victims for potential abuse by sexual predators.

We’ve discussed the paper money rip-off of the Blind — but the sexual molestation of the Deaf-Blind is especially easy and pernicious. The Deaf-Blind are unable to memorize faces or to check IDs before providing strangers access to their homes.

Sometimes the predators don’t need keys. They gain access to the apartment because the Deaf-Blind lets them enter, but when they are supposed to leave, they open and close the front door without actually leaving.

The Deaf-Blind person believes the person is gone — but that predator is still right there staring at them in the room waiting to strike.

One young Deaf-Blind boy who thought he was paying a female prostitute to visit his room was disgusted to later learn — by the recognition of body odor — that it was a male security guard who had been visiting his room, and not a female prostitute, to provide him oral pleasure.

The security guard was supposed to be the surrogate for hiring the prostitute, but he pocketed the money and did the deed himself even though he was 65 years old and toothless.

It was only months later that the young Deaf-Blind boy realized it was the building security guard — and not a prostitute who was servicing him — when they worked closely together on building a tree house in a local park and the boy recognized the security guard’s body odor that, to him, had come to mean sexual satisfaction.

The boy reported his sexual violation to building support staff.

Since there was no proof, no DNA, no real evidence of the crime — and body odor was not prosecutable as a lawful identification — nothing was done.

The security guard was eventually fired for a different reason, but the young boy had to live with his tormentor working in the same building where he lived for a long while.

I have often wondered how we can better protect the innocent interests of the Deaf-Blind in a society where prurient desires are the coin of the day that drives a national sub-economy — but all my ideas cost lots of money: Video Surveillance, Partnered Entry, Tethered Proximity Cards, and Emergency Call Buttons.

Our overarching sub-economy may be driven by sexual perversion, but finding public funds to protect the Deaf-Blind from exposure to sexual predators appears to be too expensive a service to provide to our most vital and vulnerable innocent.


  1. Hi Emily —
    Yeah, it’s a pretty rotten situation. Even today if the Deaf-Blind make a report, the police are reluctant to get involved if there isn’t existing DNA.
    Education is important, but expensive, in helping spread the word in the Deaf-Blind community to touch nothing if you’ve been assaulted, raped or sexually molested. Notify the police and stay put. Don’t clean up. Don’t take a shower! Throw nothing away.

  2. David,
    I’m glad this issue is being brought up. It is, like you say, a dirty secret in the service of the Deaf-Blind. I’m not saying staff are solely responsible for the exploitation of their clients but just the general nature of their disability makes them really open to abuse.

  3. Hi Janna! Thanks for taking part of your lunchtime to talk with us about this issue.
    How can we help prevent this sort of Deaf-Blind abuse?

  4. I guess be open to the idea that this kind of thing happens. Don’t pretend the disabled are untouchable by bad people. They are the most vulnerable, really, and need even more direct observation and care from outsiders. You can always volunteer to help but be prepared to learn another language.

  5. Yes, I saw that picture of the alphabet in your story. I think that’s sort of old. Most of the Deaf-Blind I deal with go for ASL. They put their hands on the hands of the interpreter and rely on HandShapes and movement and location to understand the ASL.

  6. It is quite an inspiring site to see the Deaf-Blind at an event and having the event interpreted for them. It is an intensive experience to watch and, I’m sure, to help make happen.

  7. Yes, the sexual abuse of disabled children is a whole other realm of disgusting realities. We’ll save those horrors for another time.

  8. Right you are, Nicola, and I said the same thing in my article:

    The Deaf-Blind are not the only victims of this sort of abuse-of-trust. The infirm elderly, the mentally disabled and those with dementia are also prime victims for potential abuse by sexual predators.

  9. Well, I’m focusing on the Deaf-Blind in the article, so they don’t really use pagers. There are, as I mention in the article, flashing lights and vibration alerts that can be used to announce people, but that doesn’t do much for prevention.
    What you really need is some kind of system where if someone is going into a room with a Deaf-Blind person, there should be a second, disinterested party in the room as well.
    That takes a lot of people power and you’d need the selection of the second person to be sort of “double-blind” to ensure anonymity and unpredictability in the secure choice.

  10. It is a hard sadness, Nicola, to know that these people are in a silent and dark world with little interaction with others due to language and physical barriers.
    Even “safe communities” run by charities and service programs can’t protect the Deaf-Blind because you will always have people — even in a protected circle — who have bad intentions and open access to the wholly vulnerable.
    Would a Deaf-Blind person ever be able to effectively testify in court to a rape or a sexual molestation and be believed without some sort of DNA or other third-party verification?

  11. That might be the right way to do it, Nicola. RFID implants. Cameras in the rooms of the disabled with 24/7 human monitoring.
    I know a lot of women suffer sexual molestation in silence because reporting it will only demonize them and not their attackers. It’s a sad condition.

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