People with disabilities are also particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Exploitation can take many forms, including:
- Sexual exploitation. For example, women with disabilities are forced into prostitution. Trafficking is becoming an enormous issue among young teens.
- Financial exploitation. For example, individuals with disabilities may be paid less than other workers or have personal funds removed from their accounts without their permission. Although the practice of peonage, or “involuntary servitude,” was abolished in 1865 under the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, people with disabilities continue to be forced to work under dangerous, sometimes inhumane circumstances at little or no pay. This is often disguised as a lower wage offset by “room and board.”
- Entertainment. Being used as a source of entertainment, such as being physically assaulted by a group or being forced to engage in demeaning activities for the amusement of others.
Judge’s Ruling Awards $ 600,000 to Exploited Workers
Six years after 28 men with developmental disabilities were freed from servitude in a dilapidated schoolhouse in Atalissa, Iowa, a building that was used as a bunkhouse, and after having worked for decades with little or no pay for Henry’s Turkey Service, Chief Judge Jorge Solis, United States District Court in Texas, issued them an award of $ 600,000. The order and award overrode an intentional scheme to divert settlement proceeds that were owed to these men to the children of the owners of Henry’s Turkey Service. This case has been referred to as one of the “more notorious cases of workplace exploitation” in recent years.
Over the years, several complaints were made and investigations by newspapers found their way to the public press but nothing ever happened. It wasn’t until 2009, when a relative of one of the men made another attempt to shed light on the schoolhouse. That complaint to state authorities coupled with a complaint to The Des Moines Register resulted in a federal raid on the property and investigative findings that sent shock waves through the state of Iowa.
Woodbury Woman Allowed Prostitution of Disabled Teen at Motel, Charges Say
A Woodbury woman was charged Thursday, Jan. 3, with criminal neglect after prosecutors say she allowed the prostitution of a 19-year-old developmentally delayed woman for whom she was legally responsible.
The teenager told police that Cheryl Ann Tchida, 50, had dropped her off at a Roseville hotel to “hang out” with a 17-year-old male “friend” she had met at a fast-food drive-through several days earlier, according to a criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court.
The teen has an IQ of 45 and cannot tell time, read at a functional level or take care of her basic needs, according to the criminal complaint. A guardianship petition explained that the teen is vulnerable to exploitation by others, the complaint said.
Police became aware of the July 3 incident when Tchida called police Aug. 8, saying the teen had been raped and forced to engage in prostitution about a month earlier, the complaint said.
From StarTribune, June 4, 2013
Hopkins High Senior Charged with Sex Trafficking Cheerleading Teammate
A Hopkins High School senior faces felony charges that she prostituted one of her cheerleading teammates — a 16-year-old girl who receives special education services.
Montia Marie Parker, 18, of Maple Grove will appear in Hennepin County District Court next week to face charges of sex trafficking and promoting prostitution. The cheerleader is accused of setting up a Backpage.com ad for her teammate, claiming she wanted to help her make money, driving her to a Crystal apartment to have sex with a man and then taking the $60 the girl made.
Across the state, police working at high schools are seeing more cases involving teenage girls whose sexual services have been peddled on Backpage.com, a common website for juvenile prostitution.
From ThinkProgress, June 12, 2013
Mentally Disabled Students Forced Into Labor At Rhode Island School
A Providence, Rhode Island school geared toward the mentally disabled has allegedly forced students into manual labor for either little or no pay, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Department of Justice. The school also transferred students to a similar program once they graduated without the option of integrated employment.
The school, Harold A. Birch Vocational School, operated a workshop that contracted work for the disabled students, segregating them from other students. The Justice Department released a letter on June 7 detailing the conditions the students were subjected to, according to WPRI News:
“Birch obtains contracts with private businesses to perform work, such as bagging, labeling, collating, and assembling jewelry,” the letter stated. “One former student stated that she was required to spend a much greater portion of her school day in the workshop, including full days, when the workshop had important production deadlines.”
Students were paid “subminimum or no wages” for their labor, according to the Justice Department report. The investigation found that students who were paid made between 50 cents and $2 an hour and sometimes worked weekends.
From CBS News, March 11, 2009
“Fight Club” At Home For Mentally Disabled
Seven employees of a state-run home for the mentally disabled have been suspended for staging fights between residents who were forced to shove, punch and strike each other, authorities said Tuesday.
Police learned of the fights when someone gave a cell phone containing videos of the brawls at the Corpus Christi State School to an off-duty officer on Friday, police Capt. Tim Wilson said by phone from Corpus Christi.
“Workers were running their own fight club using clients. It’s pretty appalling that someone would think of this,” he said.
From CBS News, New York, February 6, 2014
Hamptons Group Home Workers Allegedly Ran “Developmentally Disabled Fight Club”
Four workers at a group home allegedly encouraged a person with developmental disabilities to attack another disabled person on Long Island, prosecutors said.
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, prosecutors called it a disturbing abuse of their position for group home workers who were supposed to be taking care of disabled residents instead of taking advantage of them.
Erin McHenry of Brookhaven, Justin McDonald of Lindenhurst, Stephen Komara of East Moriches and Rosemary Vanni of Eastport face felony charges of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, prosecutors said.
“These defendants encouraged two developmentally disabled adults to participate in, what I said on record, is a developmentally disabled fight club,” said special prosecutor Jacqueline Kagan, of the New York State Justice Center for Protection of People with Special Needs.
From Texas Tech Law Review, 48 Tex. Tech L. Rev.459, Winter 2016
Pennies an Hour: Was This Really the Intent Behind § 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act? A Note Calling for a System Change to an Otherwise Broken System.
An historical overview of § 14 (c) under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the original intent that was never realized, and how this provision has legitimized the segregation of and perpetuated stereotypes about individuals with disabilities in employment. The system is broken and reform is long overdue. (Added 4-5-16)
From The Dallas Morning News, June 10, 2016
State plays down lead issue at state homes for disabled, but new water tests show higher levels
Reports surfaced in May that hundreds of Texans with developmental disabilities consumed water containing toxic amounts of lead in three state-funded homes. Expanded tests revealed much greater levels of lead. However, despite the new test results show lead levels in the three homes much higher than originally reported, the state has reportedly down played the severity of the issue in a letter to residents’ families.