Sexual Abuse

People with disabilities are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities. A 2005 survey of people with disabilities indicated that 60 percent of respondents had been subjected to some form of unwanted sexual activity. Unfortunately, almost half never reported the assault. In general, people with disabilities experience domestic and sexual violence at higher rates than people who do not have a form of disability. Consider the following:

  • 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives.
  • Just 3% of sexual abuses involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported.
  • 50% of girls who are deaf have been sexually abused compared to 25% of girls who are hearing; 54% of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused in comparison to 10% of boys who are hearing.
  • Women with a disability are far more likely to have a history of undesired sex with an intimate partner – 19.7% vs. 8.2%.
  • Approximately 80% of women and 30% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted – half of these women have been assaulted more than 10 times.[1]

From NPR News, January 8 through January 18, 2018

Joe Shapiro, Investigations Correspondent for NPR News, takes on long term projects and writes on social policy. Beginning January 8, 2018, and running through January 18, 2018 a series about sexual harassment and sexual assault, and adults with developmental disabilities was aired on “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” The series speaks to his findings after a yearlong investigation. These crimes, all too frequently unrecognized and unpunished, have become an epidemic of violence.

January  8, 2018: Morning Edition. Correspondent Joe Shapiro talks about the series with host Steve Inskeep.

January 8, 2018: All Things Considered: The epidemic of sexual abuse of people with intellectual disabilities. Numbers obtained by NPR show they are sexually assaulted at rates more than 7 times those for all adults without disabilities.

January 9, 2018: Morning Edition: A visit to a Sex Ed class for people with intellectual disabilities. They talk about how they want relationships, but how the sexual violence of their past often gets in the way.

January 10, 2018: All Things Considered: On cases that go unnoticed when people have difficulty communicating.

January 16, 2018: All Things Considered: Police and prosecutors are often reluctant to take these cases. NPR goes back to Essex County, New Jersey, where the first case to get widespread attention—in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, 25 years ago—was prosecuted. And look at what prosecutors have learned since.

January 18, 2018: Morning Edition: Therapists Nora Baladerian and Karyn Harvey talk about the stunning violence in the lives of their clients.

January 18, 2018: All Things Considered: Self-advocates speak—thoughtfully—of the effects of sexual violence. This piece is entirely in the voices of people with intellectual disabilities (plus Joe Shapiro).

From Press & Sun Bulletin, April 11, 2017

Broome Developmental worker held on rape charge

A Broome Developmental Center employee posed as a social worker and offered money for sex. Martin Kelly was arrested by New York State Police on rape felony charges and following an ongoing investigation by the District Attorney’s office. The Center closed in March 2016; some of the individuals are now receiving services in the community.

From The Columbus Dispatch, February 24, 2017

Former institution staff sentenced to nearly 16 years for rape of disabled woman

Raped by a caregiver in nursing home, the victim’s brother told a Franklin County judge how the crime “destroyed her life” and has devastated her family. Both the family and the Assistant Prosecutor asked for the maximum 16 years sentence, close to what was given

From CNN Investigations, March 2, 2017

Sick, Dying and Raped in America’s Nursing Homes

A little-discussed issue, more widespread than one could imagine, allegations dismissed by facility officials as resident “hallucinations or fantasies,” and little or nothing being done by governmental agencies responsible for investigations after repeated reports and patterns of assaults. These are systemic failures, occurring in nursing homes across the country.

Click here to read full article

From The Connecticut Post, October 1, 2012

Supreme Court sets accused rapist free

The state Supreme Court Monday threw out the conviction of a city man found guilty of sexually assaulting a severely handicapped woman.

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In a 4-3 decision, the high court ruled that despite evidence the 26-year-old woman cannot speak and has little body movement, there was no evidence she could not communicate her refusal to have sex with the defendant, Richard Fourtin, Jr. As a result of the ruling, Fourtin goes free and cannot be tried for the case again.

Fourtin’s lawyer, Senior Assistant Public Defender Nicole Donzello, declined comment on the decision.

In January 2008, the 28-year-old Fourtin was convicted by a jury here of attempted second-degree and fourth-degree sexual assault and sentenced to six years in prison for sexually assaulting the severely handicapped woman in the Success Village housing complex in late 2005.

The woman, now 29, who in court only went by her initials, L.K., has severe cerebral palsy and cannot verbally communicate. She is so physically restricted that she is able to make motions only with her right index finger.

In order for the woman to testify during the trial, a small video camera was placed over her and a tray affixed to her chair. On the tray, the prosecutor placed a board printed with the letters of the alphabet along with the words “yes” and “no” on top.

After each question, the woman’s left hand would push her right hand, index finger sticking out, across the board to either spell out a word or answer yes or no. It was an exhausting process that lasted four days.

However, the defense argued that there was evidence the woman could communicate by biting, kicking, screaming and gesturing. They presented testimony at trial from a home health aide who said the woman would kick and groan if she didn’t get food she wanted.

The state Appellate Court later ruled she is not physically helpless under the state law in which a jury convicted Fourtin. The state then took an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“We are not persuaded that the victim was either unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse at the time of the alleged sexual assault,” the high court ruled Monday.

The three dissenting justices accused the majority of acting as a “13th juror,” in the case and substituting their opinion for that of the jury.

Click here to read full article

Aired on NBC News Los Angeles, November 9, 2012

Suspect in bus rape has extensive criminal history

The suspect arrested in the rape of a mentally disabled teen aboard a Metro bus has an extensive criminal history, including charges of sexual assault, authorities said Friday.

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Kerry Trotter, 20, of South Los Angeles, was arrested early Friday after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced that detectives were searching for a man who had boarded a bus and for 10 minutes raped an 18-year-old woman. Trotter is being held on $1 million bail.

Authorities were also investigating whether the bus driver took appropriate action when the rape was reported aboard his bus. A lone witness had tried to get the driver’s attention while the assault occurred, according to sheriff’s department officials.

The attack happened about 5 p.m. Wednesday after the victim and her attacker boarded Bus Line 217 at La Cienega and Jefferson boulevards, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The 10-minute attack occurred at the rear of the bus, deputies said.

After it was over, the rapist got off the bus at Sepulveda Boulevard and Slauson Avenue, the route’s last stop.

The victim, who was said to have the mental capacity of a 10 year old, then told the driver after her assailant left the bus.

“She did not scream or shout out,” said Sgt. Dan Scott with the Sheriff’s Department. “She was too afraid to do so.”

Click here to read more

From Star-Tribune, October 2, 2008
Suspect forced sex, disabled St. Paul teen says

Eighteen-year-old Joshua L. Smith is being tried on two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The teenager who prosecutors say was raped by Joshua L. Smith on Sept. 6, 2006, has a congenital syndrome that causes deformities in her bones, skin and hair, and mental and developmental disabilities.
She was 17 at the time of the attack but had the cognitive abilities of a 12-year-old.

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She is 19 now and, although she mixed up the names of some body parts during her testimony Thursday, she clearly told the jury in Smith’s rape trial that he forced her to have sex in the basement of his St. Paul home.

Smith, 18, is on trial in Ramsey County District Court on two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is accused of the September 2006 rape and the rape of another woman shortly after midnight New Year’s Day 2007.

That 57-year-old victim testified Tuesday that she was brutally and repeatedly raped, kicked and beaten in the parking lot of the Salvation Army on Payne Avenue. Smith was 16 at the time of the attacks and was certified to stand trial as an adult.

The teenage victim said Thursday that she had known Smith since she was in seventh grade.

“Were you friends?” prosecutor Jill Fedje asked.

“Not really,” the teen said.

Still, the two exchanged cell phone numbers after meeting up at a park. Smith called on Sept. 8 and invited her over.

Smith met her at the bus stop, the teenager said. He took her into the basement through a outside entrance and into a small room where he raped her twice and kicked her in the head in between.

The teenager said she felt scared and threatened. Smith took her cell phone — her mother had told her that if she lost it she wouldn’t get another one.

Sara Wirkkala, a registered nurse at the Midwest Children’s Resource Center, interviewed the victim Sept. 25, 2006. That interview was videotaped and shown to jurors Thursday morning.

Click here to read the full article

From The Center on Victimization and Safety, November 12, 2015

Measuring capacity to Serve Survivors with Disabilities: Performance Indicators, November 12, 2015

The Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Victimization and Safety developed a practical performance indicator tool to track progress over time in serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence who have disabilities, and measure these efforts against field standards.

  1. ^Disabled World News (2012-11-20) – People who experience forms of disabilities may face limited options where escaping from abusive relationship is concerned: