Appropriate Treatment For Deaf Sex Offenders

By Jean F. Andrews

English: President George H. W. Bush signs the...
English: President George H. W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 into law. Pictured (left to right): Evan Kemp, Rev Harold Wilke, Pres. Bush, Sandra Parrino, Justin Dart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sexual predation is considered to be a heinous crime rather than a disease. In a paper written by Dr. McCay Vernon – the late psychologist who specialized in mental health issues and deaf persons –  pedophilia is a “a curse,” because crimes by sexual molesters arouse so much public anger, and sex offenders often receive severe sentences by judges, juries and the public.

The curse extends beyond public outcry.

Sign, Wapello, Iowa. This was put up in reacti...
Sign, Wapello, Iowa. This was put up in reaction to Megan’s Law. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a sex offender who is deaf, is sentenced to prison, the programs that prisons offer are often not accessible to them. Prison officials commonly – and wrongly – believe, that providing a sign language interpreter, thus an equivalency of the message will suffice.  Not so. Many deaf sex offenders do not understand the psychological vocabulary that is used in these lectures.  Further, they cannot read the materials.  Many Deaf adult criminal offenders are reading at the second grade level or below, have histories of physical, and emotional abuse, and may have cognitive disabilities as well. They are unable to grasp the concepts in these sessions, or learn how to process the stages in order to gain awareness of their disease.  The textbooks, workbooks and other written materials are often written at the 7th grade or higher, so they cannot read the materials. Further, writing their autobiography and describing the triggers that make them act out sexually with children, require higher skills in English-writing than many of these deaf adults have. The result is a mismatch between the program goals and the literacy abilities of the sex offender.

Baltimore Sun
Dr. McCay Vernon. Image courtesy Baltimore Sun.

What’s more, They also have difficulty interacting with hearing sex offenders, during community activities outside of the classroom.

Their struggles continue upon release.

The deaf sex offender faces insurmountable obstacles to being released into the community, because they have been disowned by family, Deaf friends and the Deaf community.  Even the church and other social organizations are afraid of sponsoring them, or providing them assistance, because of liability issues. Finding a job or a place to live is virtually impossible, because of lack of training and harsh laws that prevent them from living near schools or neighborhoods with young children.

There is a need for specialized programs to be set up for the Deaf sex offender, that are accessible to them. There are professionals in mental health counseling, and deaf education, who can conduct this kind of training.  They have preparation in mental health issues and treatment, related to deaf persons. Furthermore, They are skilled in ASL/English bilingual methods, and visual ways of learning, for the deaf.

How to get these programs into prisons, for deaf offenders, is the challenge we face.  With more Deaf persons becoming knowledgeable of the legal rights and protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates equal access to services in prisons, these kinds of prison-appropriate and accessible treatment programs may become a reality.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

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