A Hot Line for the Hearing-Impaired

By June or July, Los Angeles County will have its first hot line for deaf and hearing-impaired women who are victims of sexual assault. The San Fernando Valley Rape Crisis Center plans not only to have deaf volunteers on a line with TDD equipment for the deaf, but also to offer deaf women its other services such as self-defense classes, trained advocates and referrals to therapists.

"These women are at much higher risk (of assault), and they tend not to report to an even greater degree (than hearing women)," said Carol Nelson, coordinator for the center. "There's a whole other population out there not being served. The deaf community is very cloistered, very closed. Sexual assault has only been talked about (in the hearing community) in the last 10 or 12 years," she said, and it's beginning to start in the deaf community. "We have a long way to go."

Nelson said that the hot line has received calls for help from friends and families of deaf women who have been raped, but until now hasn't been able to help the women directly. There are a number of problems in putting together a program that will serve deaf women. "It's a real problem to make 24-hour service available," Nelson said.

Deaf hot-line counselors, like the hearing counselors, receive the hot-line calls at home, so the center, which is supported entirely by private donations, must obtain computer equipment that can transfer calls from the center's TDD phone to the counselors' home machines. Deaf and hearing-impaired women volunteers are being sought to staff the hot line, and will attend a training class to meet March 11-May 20 in Northridge. By the time the counselors are trained, Nelson hopes the equipment will be in place. Sheryl Kaplan, who is deaf and has worked for the center for some time, will give information and take calls from prospective volunteers on the TDD number, (818) 782-3612.

For women who want referrals to professional counseling, the center must find therapists who are able to work with deaf or hearing-impaired people. "The resources--therapists who do crisis counseling and know sign language--just aren't developed," Nelson said. "We need a whole new referral network."

The center has one volunteer who also happens to work as an interpreter for the deaf, Nelson said, and the plan is to find more interpreters who would be interested in being trained to act as advocates for rape victims and accompany them to hospitals, police interviews and courts.

Getting the word out in any community about a new service is always difficult, Nelson said, and it may be particularly hard to reach out to the deaf community. The Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness is enthusiastic about the center's plans, Nelson said. This week the center is filming a cable-TV program for deaf people about rape and the crisis service.

Hearing therapists or interpreters or others interested in volunteering may call (818) 366-7686. The hot-line phone for help, available only to hearing people until summer, is (818) 708-1700.

A majority of American women believe that sex discrimination in the workplace has increased in the last year. According to a national sampling projectable to the U.S. female population that was commissioned by Glamour magazine, the numbers of women who believe they are experiencing discrimination in hiring, promotion and salaries has sharply increased since similar surveys were conducted in 1982 and 1983.

In 1984, almost 61% of women said they believed they faced discrimination in getting a job, up from 54% in 1983 and 56% in 1982. Nearly 82% said they believed salary differentials based on sex have increased, as compared to 76% in 1982. The women also reported what they perceived as increased discrimination in job advancement and admission to graduate schools.

Ironically, the respondents expressed far less worry about the state of the economy than they did in preceding years, but more worry about their own careers, perhaps a further indication of a belief that women are unlikely to receive a fair share in economic good times. In 1982, 82% of women expressed worry about the economy; in this year's survey, conducted in August, this was down to 58%. However, a majority believed that poverty has increased during the last year and that the level of unemployment is unacceptably high. Both of these problems affect women disproportionately.

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