I’m a deaf 35 year old woman with two children. I’m also HIV positive. I was raped twice by the same man. It happened when I was working as a carpenter’s assistant.
The men used to come up to me and ask for sexual favors. I rejected them. At the time, I couldn’t communicate using sign language. They wanted to force me to have sex with them. Then, I was raped by one of them. I didn’t go to the police. I kept silent about the rape. I was very enraged about it, though. I hated the man because not only had he violated me but he infected me with HIV. I gave birth to an infected baby. I didn’t go to the hospital. My aunt, who’s a mid-wife delivered me.
The same monster raped me again and this time because I was taking medication, the second baby was HIV negative. Thank God for that. I quit my job and moved in with my aunt. I went to the police to report my second attack but it was a very frustrating experience and I realized why some many deaf rape victims don’t report their attacks. The first police officer thought I was mentally ill and the second, a female, thought I was being aggressive when all I was doing was moving closer to her so that could lipread.
Finally, I managed to get the first officer to understand that I wanted write. He gave me a sheet of paper and a pen. I wrote down what happened to me, the identity of my attacker, signed my name and left. I don’t know if that would make a difference. To date, I haven’t been notified by the police or received any news as to whether my attacker has been arrested and charged.
It’s really tough being a deaf woman in Zimbabwe. We are looked down on and it’s believed that no one would want to pay a bride price for us. Who would want to marry a deaf woman? And when it comes to medical care, we need to be informed but for that to happen we need interpreters but they need to be paid and who could afford to pay them? This was the challenge I was facing until a friend told me about Deaf Women Included (DWI) and invited me to a workshop. I went and my life changed. I thank God everyday for DWI.
DWI helps women with deafness and to have access to so much information regarding abuse and sexual violence. They provide us with information about HIV and AIDS. I was born deaf and I grew up knowing how to sign but so much information was missed. I couldn’t understand some of the terms used for health education. Thanks to DWI I and other women like me have a better understanding of health and sexual reproduction.
Before DWI, I was treated like an outcast, except from my aunt and a few friends. Most people didn’t want to have anything to do with me because I was HIV positive. Now, I don’t feel like being HIV matters anymore. It and my deafness are not my handicaps. I have gained confidence and feel empowered now that I’m working to support myself and my daughters.
I no longer feel any hatred or bitterness toward my rapist. I hope and pray that he hasn’t raped and infected anyone else. I did my part by reporting what he did to me to the police.
I have finally come to accept that I will never be in a relationship or get married because of the HIV. Sometimes, I cry about it. I cry because I will never know what it’s like to have a husband and have relations with him.
I thank God for sustaining me through it all and for using me to help other deaf women to realize that they can do everything on their own. I tell them about DWI and how the organization makes it possible for them to enjoy the same human rights as anybody else, “regardless of if you are deaf, blind, wheelchair bound or physically challenged”.
This story was inspired by the true story of Magret, a 39 year old woman who was raped and infected with HIV when she was teenager working as an assistant to a carpenter. As a deaf woman, she faced challenges when it came to accessing information relating to her sexual and reproductive health. After been introduced to Deaf Women Included, she has gained confidence and now supports herself and her family by selling goods in the local town.
International Women’s Day is a day of celebration for some women but it isn’t for others. According to Womankind, “Globally, women and girls with disabilities are up to 3 times more likely to be raped, and are more likely to suffer worse injuries and more prolonged abuse than those without disabilities”. Take action by helping to:
- Support women to attend workshops where they can learn about their legal rights, how to recognise different forms of violence, and where to seek help when violence occurs
- Train nurses, police officers and court officials on the needs of women with disabilities along with basic training in sign language
- Raise awareness of the violence faced by women in the wider community through a mass media campaign highlighting the impact violence has on women with disabilities.
Women with disabilities should be subjected to isolation, exclusion from from their communities, denied education and healthcare and unable to earn their own income or play an active role in society. It’s time that something is done to protect their rights.