Advocates push awareness about sexual assaults on disabled

Published 10:11 am Monday, September 7, 2015

COLUMBUS (AP) — Advocates are focusing attention on the high number of physical and sexual assaults perpetrated against people with disabilities in Ohio and nationally.

Sadie Hunter, executive director of People First Ohio, told the Columbus Dispatch for a story Sunday she once taught a sex abuse training class to a class of disabled and only one in 50 had not been abused.

“We know it’s rampant,” Hunter told the paper. “My No. 1 thing is to get them some help.” She added that a lot of victims say, “they are just scared they are going to be hurt again.”

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The disabled are often invisible in society and don’t know how to talk about what happened to them, said Nancy Smith, a suburban Columbus woman who works on victimization issues for the New York-based Vera Institute for Justice.

The violent crime rate is higher against people with disabilities than those in the general population, according to U.S. Justice Department data.

An April report by Disability Rights Ohio found inadequate research and no statewide coordinated effort addressing sex abuse of the disabled.

Developmentally disabled people are at a greater risk of sexual abuse because they are frequently dependent on others such as caretakers, drivers and therapists for day-to-day activities, the report said. It also said they tend to be isolated from the community and lack the education to identity abuse and report it.

The disabled should be taught “that they can say no, that it’s wrong for someone to do this to you,” said Kristen Henry, an attorney with Disability Rights.

Ohio has a comprehensive system for the reporting of physical and sexual assaults and abuse against the disabled, with nearly 20,000 complaints a year, the paper reported.

But advocates for the disabled say the list covers only a fraction of those abused, authorities only substantiate about one in four allegations and criminal prosecution and follow-up care is rare.

Across the country, seven of 10 people with developmental disabilities say they have been physically and sexually assaulted, neglected or abused in some way, and nine in 10 say it happened multiple times, according to a 2012 national survey the Disability and Abuse Project.