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Marilyn J. Smith
Founder of ADWAS

In Fall 1970, as a college student, Marilyn J. Smith of Seattle became a victim of rape. (An intruder entered the dorm through an unlocked door while she was sleeping.) She was victimized twice—first by the rapist, and then by the police. No charges were ever filed. The police didn't take her seriously, acting like the rape was a social encounter that went awry. Angry about the injustice she had experienced, she buried her feelings inside and got on with her life.

Eleven years later, in 1981, a local Deaf woman was brutally murdered by her Deaf husband, who was acquitted. It was no secret in the Deaf community that he had been abusing her, but no one had known how to get help or where to go. There were simply no Deaf-accessible services. Outraged enough to do something, Smith quit her job and became a full-time advocate for women who were victims of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. As she said in 2003, "To be raped or beaten is horrible, but then to not have any place to go for help is an injustice that is too great to ignore." She wanted a 24-hour, 7-day service that was accessible to Deaf people. Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services was founded in 1986, on the proverbial shoestring, and has grown into a nationwide model addressing not only the needs of victims, but taking a proactive approach to educating children, teens, and adults. Despite its name, ADWAS also serves male victims of rape, SA, and DV.

ADWAS's office is accessible by TTY only. Early on, they made the crucial decision not to answer incoming voice-telephone calls—the only Deaf organization in the country to do so. This guaranteed ADWAS's Deaf staffers equal access to calls, and encouraged hearing callers to use relay services and TTYs.

ADWAS started small, and as Smith and her dedicated staff started programs to address one urgent need, they'd see another need, and address that. ADWAS's Positive Parenting Program was launched in 1995. A Place of Our Own, a transitional-housing project, opened in 2006, is one of ADWAS's first-of-its-kind achievements.

Smith set up a 3-year transition plan for her retirement, mentoring her successor, Tiffany Williams-Granfors, for 3 months. "The agency will move on. It's ready," she noted. Since her retirement, Smith has maintained her interest in ADWAS and involvement in the Deaf community—giving presentations, for example—but enjoying  her new opportunity to spend time as she likes, and to "do some writing."

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