Domestic violence and abuse research initiative releases new British Sign Language resource

14 June 2024

The Dewis Choice Initiative is marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (15 June) with the release of a British Sign Language version of its impactful animation highlighting the unique challenges that older adults face when domestic abuse occurs.

‘Hidden Harms’, which was created in partnership with Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board and Creative Connection Animation Studio, explores the lived experiences of older victim-survivors of domestic abuse. 

The animation is now newly accessible to people who are Deaf or have hearing loss and use British Sign Language (BSL).

Elize Freeman, Co-Lead of the Dewis Choice Initiative, said:

“Domestic abuse is a harrowing reality for many, yet some victim-survivors remain particularly hidden due to unique challenges. Among these are older individuals who communicate using British Sign Language.

“Older victim-survivors who are Deaf or who have hearing loss are less likely to access publicly available information about domestic abuse via radio, television, public campaigns, or other auditory sources. For these individuals, the isolation often experienced by victims of domestic abuse can be compounded by the lack of accessible resources and support services to meet their communication needs.”

There are two million adults in the United Kingdom who are Deaf, have hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

The 2021 census estimated that approximately 22,000 people aged three years and over use BSL as their main language in England and Wales.

Rebecca Zerk, Co-Lead of the Dewis Choice Initiative, said:

“This World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Dewis Choice is urging service providers to develop more inclusive support systems that cater to the specific needs of older BSL users. This includes providing BSL interpreters in emergency services, creating awareness campaigns within the Deaf and hearing loss community, and training support workers to recognise the unique signs of abuse in older individuals.

“By providing the ‘Hidden Harms’ animation in BSL, we hope that the animation will reach victim-survivors who have been overlooked. It is a small step towards breaking down the barriers that leave older BSL users vulnerable, ensuring they receive the education, help and support they need.”

Natalie Hancock, Regional Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV) lead, said:

“We are incredibly fortunate as a region to have Dewis Choice on our VAWDASV Partnership. The ‘Hidden Harms’ animation, highlighting the experience of older victims, was incredibly well received, and welcomed by colleagues and practitioners across the whole partnership. By enabling us to now share the animation through the medium of BSL, we can move closer to a more inclusive, equitable and accessible provision for older victims of VAWDASV.”

The ‘Hidden Harms’ animation was funded by Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board.  The Welsh language version of the animation was funded by Mid and West Wales region VAWDASV.  The new BSL version has been funded by Dewis Choice.

The Dewis Choice Initiative, based at the Department of Law and Criminology, is a longitudinal research study examining the lived experiences of victim-survivors of domestic abuse in later life, which also offers a co-produced service for older people who have experienced domestic abuse.