Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In the Philippines, the needs and issues of persons with disabilities, including the Deaf, remain invisible to the broader population and largely unaddressed. While there are no official statistics or studies on the literacy rate among members of the Deaf community, the World Federation of the Deaf estimates that 80% of the total Deaf population in the world does not have access to education, and that only 1-2% of the Deaf get education in sign language. With the immense barrier to communication and the lack of institutional support to address this deficiency in the Philippines, other graver issues concerning the Deaf community have surfaced. A report by Lisa Martinez, PhD, founder of The Philippine Deaf Resource Center, cites several studies that show the high incidence of sexual abuse among Deaf women and minors in the Philippines. One such statistic reports that 72% of Deaf women in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao are sexually abused or battered, with 63% abused by their own fathers. Another report cites approximately half of referrals of sexual abuse from 1996-2006 that were handled by a Counseling Ministry for the Deaf being cases of incest. Yet another reports one out of three Deaf women being victims of rape, and a 65-70% incidence of molestation among Deaf minors. There have also been reports of sexual abuse and molestation occurring in some Deaf residential schools, with teachers perpetuating the crime and administrators covering up for them.
Although the lack of uniform and systematized data collection prevents a truly accurate picture of the problem, cases of sexual abuse among Deaf women and children are slowly surfacing and are being acknowledged through the leadership and scholarship of Deaf, Women, and Children advocates. However, it is one thing to know and acknowledge that such abuses are happening, and another thing to have a system that is equipped to handle such cases effectively and efficiently. Studies show that Deaf victims have had little to no access to the legal or judicial systems in the Philippines. Even for programs by established organizations such as the Counseling Ministry for the Deaf, cases filed in court are mostly either dismissed or archived, mainly due to the language barrier - caused by the lack of interpreters in the country. There are no policies that set standards for interpreting in court proceedings involving the Deaf. As Martinez states, "The lack of awareness...has resulted in a dismal absence of policy, i.e., of a nationally mandated system for interpreting…and standards to govern selection of interpreters for court proceedings, and the quality of their interpreting during these proceedings." This is a symptom of a general lack of support for Deaf persons.
Aggravating the lack of interpreter systems is the failure of the Philippines government to recognize Filipino Sign Language (FSL) of the Deaf, choosing instead Signing Exact English (SEE) which many advocates argue is not its own language, nor the mother tongue of Deaf Filipinos.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
John Paul Maunes, called “JP”, is building a Deaf-inclusive society. By addressing the rampant yet ignored problem of sexual abuse among Deaf children and women, JP has chosen to work with the most vulnerable of the Deaf community and use this work as a mobilizing force in engaging lawyers, police officers, and other volunteers, as well as in raising broader public awareness about the multiple barriers facing the Deaf. By training and engaging Deaf and hearing volunteers through Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme (GVSP) Philippines, JP is providing multiple platforms where the Deaf and the hearing interact with one another - interactions that JP believes are key for the hearing community to see Deaf community members as valued members of society.
JP’s Break the Silence Project (BTS) launched in 2011 is GVSP’s flagship initiative to uncover and expose the widely ignored tragedy of sexual abuse against Deaf children and women in the Philippines, which, according to the Deaf Resource Center affects approximately 70% of that group. In partnership with other nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private groups, and other relevant institutions, GVSP is educating the hearing and Deaf community about the issue not only to detect and help prevent further cases but to develop a system to address the abuse. JP’s approach uses animated films adapted from a leading children’s organization with inset Filipino Sign Language (FSL) for Deaf children, trained Deaf counselors, and a 24/7 hotline to detect and channel more advanced psychological support to sexually abused Deaf individuals. He then establishes paralegal and court interpreting services to help cases be brought to light and justice, as well as workshops and trainings for government agencies that serve the Deaf. In doing so, GVSP is not only addressing the issue of sexual abuse among the Deaf but inserting the needs of the Deaf community into the law enforcement, justice and social welfare systems.
The BTS Project has expanded to become BTS Networks across the Philippines. BTS networks are comprised of Deaf and hearing professionals: lawyers, police officers, paralegals, interpreters, and other Deaf and hearing volunteers, who are committed to helping the Deaf community have fair access to justice. GVSP’s work for the BTS Project has given the issues faced by the Deaf community proper attention and urgency while building momentum around broader questions of inclusion. JP is using this greater interest and understanding to also achieve policy changes related to the official recognition of Filipino Sign Language(FSL) and nationwide interpreting services on televised news as a pathway for mainstream inclusion of the Deaf community.