The Importance of Sign Language in Resolving Cases of Sexual Violence Against Women with Disabilities

Disabled women who are victims of sexual violence still face many obstacles in handling cases of violence they experienced, one of which is the lack of people who know sign language. Efforts to fight for victims' rights are still constrained by language and strong stigma. On the other hand, although there are regulations related to the fulfillment of the rights of women with disabilities who are victims of sexual violence, the implementation has not been optimal.

Language is one of the few things we get for free, something we take for granted. But for people with disabilities, language can be a big problem in their life.

Erlina Marlinda (43) opened a conversation about her pain in seeing that her friends with disabilities have difficulty communicating. She herself was born with a physical disability. Her daily life can not be separated from the wheelchair.

The first thing she conveyed was the importance of raising awareness for families to learn sign language. “There are still many parents, especially in Banda Aceh, who have deaf children but do not understand sign language,” said Erlin.

This condition makes family members who have disabilities rarely involved in family discussions. As a result, when they have problems, they tend to be more comfortable talking to their deaf friends.

The existence of these communication barriers is a very crucial problem. In 2017, Erlin facilitated reproductive health training for deaf friends and intellectual disabilities in Banda Aceh City. Parents of the participants were also included.

Participants were divided into two groups based on gender. Two facilitators, one female and one male, who assisted the groups. One of the activities was that they put together a genitals puzzle. After all the puzzle pieces were successfully assembled, the participants felt embarrassed by the picture.

It shows how taboo sexual education is for them. In the parents’ group, the facilitator asked how they taught their children about reproductive health since childhood. They admitted they never taught it. Even until their children entered adolescence, they did not teach them, with the excuse that they did not dare to explain it.

According to Erlin, the lack of information about reproductive health has an impact on the understanding of the body. She found that when deaf friends are dating, they do not just hold hands, they can even “overdose”.

Furthermore, Erlin explained, “When a deaf friend becomes a victim of sexual violence and faces the law, parents should be the first to understand the problems experienced by their children. However, not all parents can communicate with their children.”

Therefore , Erlin suggested looking for the person closest to the victim. Usually, they are their friends.

The Needs of Women with Disabilities and Victims of Sexual Violence Are Still Ignored

Data from P2TP2A (Integrated Service Center for Empowerment of Women and Children) of Banda Aceh City shows that during 2019 – 2020, 9 cases with various types of violence were reported. Siti Maisarah, the founder of Puan Adisa, explained that out of the 9 cases, only 2 cases reached the BAP/Police Investigation Report. While the rest were resolved in a family manner.

Puan Adisa, an organization that advocates for women and children with disabilities, opened a complaint service and provided referrals. However, the obstacle faced is the lack of supporting facilities and infrastructure, such as safe houses for the victims. Women with disabilities whoa are th victims of sexual violence need foster mothers in the assistance process. They also need translators and disability-friendly facilities.

Puan Adisa has assisted women with intellectual disabilities. The victim was raped until she became pregnant and gave birth. This incident was considered embarrassing for the family, so the victim was rejected by her family and needed protection.

Regarding caring for babies, people with intellectual disabilities are considered incompetent. Therefore, training is needed to improve their ability to care. This condition often causes babies to become victims of trafficking, – adopted or placed in Social Service. Meanwhile, the facilities provided by the government are also limited, especially the availability of human resources assistants or special foster mothers with disabilities.

According to Siti Maisarah, who is familiarly called Imay, many stagnant cases are caused by the attitude of law enforcers who equate the settlement of  cases on women with disabilities with women without disabilities. Meanwhile, the Child Protection Law and Qanun Jinayah have included regulations on legal assistance or translators. However, its implementation in the field has yet to be maximized.

Usually, the forms of sexual violence experienced by victims are rape and sexual harassment. Often the victims’ confessions are not acknowledged, and their testimonies are doubted, especially for people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities have weaker memory and reasoning abilities than the average human intelligence and therefore experience barriers in interacting and communicating.

Imay experienced these communication barriers directly when accompanying the victim. The Investigators, in this case, are very progressive because they work closely with psychologists. They tried to understand the victims through eye expressions and body language when they traced back to the scene of the incident, and the medium of drawing or writing on paper. Although clues can be found from these two methods, efforts to determine the perpetrators are challenging due to the communication limitations of persons with intellectual disabilities.

Women with intellectual disabilities have barriers to controlling their biological needs because their comprehension power is weaker to understand social norms. That is why the instinct to meet sexual needs is almost the same as the need to eat when feeling hungry. When receiving sexual treatment, she does not know that the act is wrong because usually, the perpetrators are members of her own family, such as her father or uncle.

The family will also blame the victim for being coquettish and having no place for sexual desire. Therefore, most cases stop at the BAP stage and rarely go to the trial and decision stages.

Furthermore, Imay revealed that domestic violence cases were reported and could be handled until they were finished. This is because domestic violence is considered not a disgrace. This case falls into the category of physical violence and needs to be protected so that the victim is no longer subject to torture. Meanwhile, in cases of sexual violence, it is considered a disgrace for most of the victims’ families, as so much remains unresolved.

Low Knowledge and the Emergence of Stigma in Families and Society

There is still an opinion in society that intellectual disability is the same as ODGJ (People with Mental Disorders), which is one of the factors in many unreported cases, and the chain of sexual violence is difficult to break. Schools play an essential role in empowering groups with disabilities. Not only teaching them to communicate but also basic knowledge. Such as providing an understanding of the police, government, law, and so on.

If persons with disabilities can care for themselves, families do not need to isolate them at home or put them in stock. Families also need not be ashamed of not including them on the family card, which can result in no certainty of data on disabilities because they do not have an ID card.

On the legal aspect, when a group with disabilities becomes a victim, the family cannot even help as a defence party because they do not understand sign language. The handling of cases in court inclusive of groups with disabilities in Indonesia is only found in Yogyakarta. Courts, at least at the provincial level, should be more concerned. The impact can certainly be lowered down to the district/city level.

In the end, for this feeling of concern to arise, not just limited to pity, their suffering must be able to become our suffering as well.

(Translated by Marina Nasution)

Mardha Mardhatillah

Program Manager "The Leader"

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