JUSTISIGNS 2 project

Supporting deaf female victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence

By Jemina Napier & Luce Clark

See the link to this blogpost in British Sign Language (BSL):

In this v/blogpost Jemina Napier and Luce (Lucy) Clark from the SIGNS@HWU team in the Centre of Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland (CTISS) at Heriot-Watt University provide an overview of the work to date on the Justisigns 2 project. The wider project focuses on how to support victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence from deaf and migrant communities, with a view to understanding best practices for key professionals (i.e., police, health and social) and interpreters working together to ensure access to support. The Heriot-Watt University team are focusing on support for deaf women specifically.

The Justisigns 2 project runs from January 2020 to May 2022 but had a delayed start due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and is a follow-on from the Justisigns project, which focused on best practices for police officers and sign language interpreters working together.

Below is a translation of the overview presented in BSL.

JEMINA:          This vlog is about the Justisigns 2 project. My name is Jemina Napier and I work at Heriot Watt University. 

LUCE:               My name is Lucy Clark, I work as a research assistant with Jemina. 

JEMINA:          The purpose of this vlogpost is to explain about the Justisigns 2 project and the goals of the project.

Firstly, we will explain the background of the project, then we will provide details of our work to date and our on-going plans. 

Essentially, we are aiming to understand deaf women’s experiences of gender-based violence (GBV), which can be defined in many ways to include domestic, sexual and emotional abuse, and their needs for accessing support.

Much of the information and support for GBV victims is not available in British Sign Language (BSL) or other sign languages, so this project, funded through the European Commission, brings together a European consortium coordinated by Interesource Group. Heriot-Watt University is the UK partner and we are working with partners in Ireland (Trinity College Dublin), Spain (University of Vigo) and Belgium (European Union for the Deaf). 

We are aiming to develop training materials and resources to support professionals and interpreters working with deaf female victims and survivors of GBV. In an ideal world, any deaf woman who has been abused should be able to receive support from specialist deaf services to get the support directly in BSL (known as language concordant care).

But we know that this is often not possible, so many deaf women will have to receive support through mainstream hearing services, meaning that police officers, counsellors and support workers will have to work with BSL interpreters.

So, the goal of this project is to develop resources as well training materials for both BSL interpreters and allied hearing professionals who work to support deaf female GBV victims and survivors. The project will enable us to better understand the best way to support deaf women and their needs – most importantly – in sign language. 

So far, since starting work on this project we have set up a UK advisory group, involving representatives of key organisations that work with deaf people, with female victims of GBV, or with sign language interpreters, namely BDA Scotland (British Deaf Association), Wise Women in Glasgow, Scottish Women’s Aid, SignHealth, and ASLI (Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK). The organisations will ensure that our project results are most useful, by making us aware of the needs of the key stakeholders.

Since we set up the advisory group, we have also recently administered a survey to interpreters and hearing support professionals to find out what training needs they have to support their skills development in working with deaf women in GBV contexts. We have also run a few online information sessions: (1) a general information event for the British Deaf community, a webinar for deaf women on International Women’s Day, and (3) a joint information session for police officers with the Police Scotland Domestic Abuse Coordination Unit in collaboration with the SIPR (Scottish Institute for Policing Research). 

Also, we held an online workshop with BSL interpreters and deaf IDVAs (Independent Domestic Violence Advocates) to discuss best practices for working together, the challenges involved and any barriers in supporting deaf women. 

We have done a lot of work so far, and we are excited exciting that Luce has now joined the team as a new staff member, and just started at the end of June 2021.

LUCE:               Yes, time flies! 

JEMINA:          Why don’t you explain what you have been doing since then?  

LUCE:               So far, I have done a lot of research, primarily analysing the video of the discussion between the IDVAs and Interpreters; their knowledge and experience, it was amazing. Because I knew from my own experiences, I personally understood what they were talking about. I learned along the way, analysed what they were discussing (for key themes) and produced a translation. We will be sharing the results of that soon. 

Also, I have conducted other research examining the news in Scotland, England and Wales for local relevant updates concerning domestic and gender-based violence. For example, there is one news item that stood out for me: now in Scotland, if a couple are living together to in a rental property, and the perpetrator of abuse is arrested, the victim can stay safely in the rental property. This means that the perpetrator has to leave the property, and the landlord can approve for the victim stay at home to be safe. Information like this is important to share in BSL, which I will be doing regularly through vlogs.

Plus, I will be sharing information on how to recognise different signs to use for concepts related to abuse. It needs to be recognised as the abuses can be wide ranging. So we need to identify appropriate signs for different types of abuse, for example like ‘informed consent’ and pronouns and other terminology. Because we want to ensure that we create a safe space to talk about GBV, for people from LGBTQIA+ and other minority communities, including different ethnicities and disabilities. We can improve access to information by focusing on the key thing that is common to the various deaf communities, and that is providing information in sign language.

It is amazing this work, and I am still excited to work in this project. Looking forward to gathering more information, as the more we have, the more aware we are. So, we will share more information once we have agreed what information needs to go out. 

JEMINA:          We have been busy with this project! It will run for one more year, and hopefully we might get an extension (fingers crossed!). 

Forthcoming plans include a workshop for deaf and hearing interpreters to get together to discuss, like Lucy said earlier, how we sign different terminology and jargon. For example, we sometimes see the sign ‘victim’ signed in a way that is similar to a sign for ‘guilt’, which implies that it is the victim’s fault, which is never the case. A more appropriate sign might be to show the person has suffered, or has experienced abuse, but it is not their fault. There are several other examples for us to discuss the appropriate signs for different terms. Especially if an interpreter is accompanying a victim in a police context where they are being questioned about an incident, or to a  hospital for a medical check-up, or to a counsellor appointment, or to other support services, there can be legal or medical terms that come up that are important for the interpreter to understand. So, Luce is doing some initial research, and then we will have a workshop to discuss these terms with the aim of creating a BSL glossary to make freely available. 

We will also provide workshops for police officers and other hearing support service professionals, as well interpreters, so they can reflect on how best to work in these situations with deaf victims. If you continue to watch our vlogposts, we will regularly share information about the workshops/events coming up.

We also hope to conduct follow up interviews with deaf women about their lived experiences. If we can log their experiences, we can better understand their needs which will inform the development of training materials that reflect their needs. 

LUCE:               And just to add that we are fully aware that most deaf women may feel nervous when it comes to participating in interviews. We would like to be clear on this that all interviews will be 100% confidential. They will help us to generate the evidence to understand the journeys of deaf women having to access hearing services through interpreters. This is our focus as we would like to know how can we improve the situation, to support professionals and interpreters to employ best practices. To avoid additional stress caused by having to explain about deaf-specific issues, which can create tensions. Our goal is to make sure the support services are smooth was possible, to work together to focus on victim, so hearing professionals and interpreters can better work toegther.  As a survivor myself who has been through domestic violence, if you are comfortable, I welcome you to talk to me, and I guarantee that anything you say will remain confidential.  Our job is to make sure you are safe. We want to be clear on that.  

JEMINA:          That’s right. It is a good point. Especially because the interviews will be recorded in BSL. From the videos we will take note of the most important things, but then the videos will be deleted immediately as soon as we are finished. The videos won’t be shown to anyone else, or kept for any other reason. No names will be revealed. The aim of the interview is to learn about experiences, and to use example quotes in the training to reveal those experiences; but no one will ever know who said what. which can be used to develop better training. It is a good point and it is important to be clear on that. 

So, what’s next? Luce has vlogging plans! 

LUCE:               Yes, I will be vlogging about any events in the UK, or new information, e.g. about change of laws or the fight for law reform, or campaigns for the victims. That information I will be vlogging via Twitter and Facebook. The more information out there, the better. You can follow us, tag us, and share the information with friends and family. It will raise awareness about these situations, and we will signpost information on where people can get support by the right people/organisations. And the best thing is that it will all be in BSL; we will be translating information into in BSL. This we hope to launch soon, aiming for a vlogpost every month. So, keep an eye out for it. If you have any information that you would like to share with us, that we can do; I will share it through the vlog. 

JEMINA:          So, watch this space! 

LUCE:               Keep safe, all of you.