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.”
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