TW: Murder of Sarah Everard, sexual assault/harassment concerns, victim blaming. There are links to places to find support at the bottom of this article.
I jump when my sister walks up behind me in the kitchen, then we watch my Fitbit as my heart rate comes down almost double because of the scare. I don’t know if my parents were scared about me growing up as a deaf young woman. They knew I was fiercely determined and were probably quite afraid to get in my way but I am moderately deaf and don’t hear footsteps, even those of the people I love most, even in the quietest of houses.
Like many people, I have been shaken by the disappearance and now murder of Sarah Everard. What really scares me is that Sarah did everything right but now she is dead. You most certainly should be arguing a woman shouldn’t have to “get it right” just to walk home at 9 pm, but every woman has been taught to protect themselves if they go out after dark. Yet, 97% of young women aged 18-25 have experienced sexual harassment.
Social media over the last few days has been an outpouring of woman sharing their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment. The brave women who talk about their own experiences for the first time, other women who recall their near misses, and those who stand with us as allies in Sarah’s honor. I don’t know many women who don’t embody the fear of what could happen when we go about our everyday lives.
Social media is also a platform where you can’t hide from the things you don’t want to see. The people who preach through their victim-blaming “you shouldn’t have done this”, “you could have done this” keep stopping me in my scrolling as I think about my own experiences and how I could have avoided them.
You see I am terrified when someone walks past me as I haven’t heard them behind me so for the past week all I’ve been able to think about is how the hell I will defend myself.
I know that when I decide to push my run that bit later into the evening because I ate my lunch too late I have to alert myself to become hyper-aware of the spaces around me, using the streetlights to spot the shadows of anyone coming up behind me. My heart often stops until the human figure that has crept up on me moves well into the distance ahead and I hope they are no longer a threat.
l don’t have the luxury of just calling a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while because it’s not as easy for a deaf person to just make a call. I wouldn’t dare listen to my music in the dark as that would block out the sound I can actually hear, I have been known to wear one headphone so that I disguise myself into looking like I am any other person on the street. In reality, I am straining my ears to listen out for something that may alert me to danger.
Whenever I leave the house I will text both my boyfriend and my sister who have my location on permanent sharing but what if I forget to let them know that I’m nipping to the shop at midnight because I really just need some ice cream?
What I am also aware of is that I can hear voices, it will most certainly be more difficult in the dark to lipread and piece a sentence together but I would still be able to detect if I was approached by someone with an aggressive tone. I have deaf friends that may not be able to hear the voices. I have spent hours trailing the internet this week to find some figures around the sexual assault and harassment of deaf women, I could not find anything dated within the last few years.
Even online advice for deaf young women surround sexual assault and harassment is scarce. We know that the figures of women reporting abuse are low but it would not be a shock to me to learn that the figures of deaf women reporting sexual harassment or abuse will be even lower. Sexual health services and even sex education can be something deaf people are not taught about because of improper and inaccessible resources. This will not change until deaf women are leading and put at the centre of research to ensure valid and accessible support. I know damn well I have needed that support in the past and I won’t be the first.
We’re all scared, some of us more than others. Give yourself the space you need but don’t shut the rest of the world out. Reach out to your friends as not everyone is as upfront about the additional challenges they face and invisible disabilities do not put a sign on our back.
Ironically, there is something quite unifying about being a woman when such a sinister event happens. Except, we cannot be unified when we do not include all who identify as women, including all of those of different races, queer and not, and with and without disabilities, in our movement forward to a safer society.
If you have information which could support the police in their enquiries in the investigation of the murder of Sarah Everard, for which Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens has been arrested and charged, please contract the Metropolitan Police.
You can also call Crimestoppers anonymously and for free on 0800 555 111, or submit on their website.
You can access Victim Support information for Sexual Assault and Rape here, NHS advice for help after Sexual Assault and Rape here, and find information from the Metropolitan Police on Sexual Assault and Rape here.
You can also visit Rape Crisis England and Wales, or find links to various help internationally by clicking here. These final two links have buttons for quickly leaving the site where it may be necessary to do so for your own safety.
If you want to report a crime, you should do so in accordance with procedure in the country you live in. In an emergency, you can call 999 in the UK, or the emergency services number in your country.
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