Rape of the Disabled: The Issue No One Wants to Discuss

In the past four years, residents with developmental disabilities at the state of California’s board-and-care facilities have filed 36 reports of molestation or rape by caretakers. Just reading those figures — which are very likely higher as many of these residents have intellectual, speech and other disabilities that make communication difficult — is alarming and all the more if you are, like me, the parent of a teenage autistic child who will be living in some sort of group home or other setting all too soon.

Even more alarming is that, as SFGate.com reports, the Office of Protective Services, the police force assigned to protect residents at California’s five developmental centers, did not carry out “even the simplest tasks” in investigating alleged crimes of sexual assault. Doctors and nurses at California’s five developmental centers are not trained to deal with sexual assault victims,†SFGate.com also reports.

Most other police departments use a “rape kit” to collect evidence that is all the more crucial given the vulnerable population of the developmental centers. The examination, performed in a hospital by nurses, is considered the “best way to find evidence of sexual abuse”; without any physical evidence, solving sex crimes can be difficult to the point of impossible.

The Rape and Pregnancy of Jennifer

Police at the developmental centers simply did not order a hospital examination in any of the cases. Documents obtained by California Watch found that, of those 36 reports from 2009-2012 about molestation, forced oral sex and vaginal lacerations, only one arrest was made.

In the following case, an investigation opened by the Office of Protective Services did not proceed because the case relied very much on the verbal accounts of a now 32-year-old woman, Jennifer, who has severe intellectual disabilities, says SFGate.com:

Many of the allegations were lodged by patients at the Sonoma Developmental Center in the town of Eldridge, where female patients have been repeatedly assaulted, internal incident records show. In one case, a caregiver was cleared by the police department of assault and allegedly went on to molest a second patient.

In another case, from August 2006, caregivers at the Sonoma center found dark blue bruises shaped like handprints covering the breasts of a patient named Jennifer. The patient accused a staff member of molestation, court records show. Jennifer’s injuries appeared to be evidence of sexual abuse, indicating that someone had grabbed her violently.

Jennifer became pregnant in the following months, during which the alleged attacker “disappeared.” Her parents are raising her five-year-old son and are suing California’s Department of Developmental Services. “I just imagine her being raped and screaming and crying for me. It just kills me,” says her mother.

In September, California governor Jerry Brown signed two bills that required the state “to alert outside police and a disability protection organization when patients die under suspicious circumstances, are abused or are seriously injured.”

The state agency that overseas the Office of Protective Services is now “working to improve sex-assault investigations and … hiring outside experts to train officers and detectives.”†But these efforts seem not only too late, but too little.

Rape and Individuals With Disabilities: The Topic No One Wants To Talk About

Protecting individuals like Jennifer, my son Charlie and so many others from sexual assault is a topic that no one wants even to bring up. In general, the topic of sexuality is one that most people dance around, sometimes by referring to it via euphemisms like “safety” and “hygiene.”One unstated reason is the resistance to acknowledge that yes, children with disabilities grow up and become teenagers and adults with disabilities who have all the hormonal and sexual urges as any of us. If an individual, like Jennifer and my son Charlie, has intellectual disabilities, there is a tendency to presume that she or he is “always” a kid and best to at stay hush-hush about these subjects.

One sign that we are stuck in thinking about autism and developmental disabilities as children’s issues, and in prioritizing the needs of children over adults, was the absence of any discussion of issues of sexuality, sex education and, yes, rape and sexual assault at a recent Congressional hearing on autism.

Silence and squeamishness do our children and all individuals with disabilities no favors. Of course children with disabilities go through puberty, a confusing period for any child that can be even more so for a child with minimal communication skills and minimal peer interactions. I know my son is very vulnerable. We more than appreciate the staff at his school; we are glad that everyone must have background checks and their fingerprints on file.

Besides taking essential precautions including making sure Charlie is never, ever alone, medical personnel, police and other first responders must all be trained. Procedures and protocols — like a rape kit and one that takes into account the numerous communication, intellectual and other disabilities of individuals Iike Charlie — needs to be developed and all personnel trained to use it.†Developing policies to protect Charlie and so many other individuals with disabilities is absolutely crucial as we seek to make this world a better and yes, safer, place for all to live in in.

Not being able to say you were raped shouldn’t be a reason to not investigate and to just let the attacker disappear.


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Photo from Thinkstock


Tim C.
Tim C4 years ago

thanks Kristine

Mary Hale
Mary Hale4 years ago

Children with learning disabilities have different levals of learning. Most of our schools the classes are too large 35 students to a class. The teacher doesn't have the time to spend with the children with mental disabilities, they fall through the cracks. The east coast have more schools with the ability to teach different . When you get to the country schools in the rural areas of our country , students with disabilities are just passed on. I know one girl that can't make change who graduated. There are a lot more. A lot of students just give up and quit school, this is sad. Ill. has a good project going, where they have pods that are just like homes where they are taught to cook, clean house, wash cloths, make change, even read if able to learn how. Then are put in apartments and some one looks in on them at least once a week. They also have jobs where they work and make money.But in regular classes I really don't know, as other children can be very unthinking and say things to them and call them names. No compassion.

Fiona T.
Past Member 4 years ago

They should be equally treated and get helped

Terry V.
Terry V4 years ago


Paula G.
Paula G4 years ago

Having worked with this subgroup of our culture I am well aware of these issues. Sadly it is difficult to get any action on it. Most women without issues (and the few males who come forward) have little chance of proving in a court of law. May guardians of people with disabilities don't even try to go there as the child with disabilities will be torn to shreds in court. The solution... I really don't know. Sexual assault is such a taboo topic and so often the victim gets blamed or told they are lying. Oh and if the Rep party (and probably Harper's party) is correct, women don't get pregnant when raped so those who do must be lying about what happened. Since many of the judges who are appointed are conservative and old school they take the side of the dumbasses who make the statements or assaulted the helpless individual.

Jane Warren
Jane Warren4 years ago

thnx for raising awareness of this

Karl Murphy
Karl Murphy4 years ago

WTF is wrong with people? raping disabled people?????? Who does that?? The world is just whacked out, I don't know what else to say, how insane.

Mark B.
Mark Bales4 years ago

Rape is rape.

J C Bro
J C Brou4 years ago


Jane Mckenzie
Jane Mckenzie4 years ago

the people who make up society are in denial about rape in any case

the idea of rape of our most vulnerable is too much for some people to bear

What I hate is that if you acknowledge that this happens, it seems as if you are the one who is acting in bad taste