Will There Ever Be Justice for Jenna?

jenna nccjdby Mary Clayton

My daughter, Jenna, is a 26-year old woman with Down syndrome, and she is also a sexual assault survivor. On June 11, 2013, I discovered bruising just above her pubic hairline. The next day, I took Jenna to her Primary Care Physician who suspected sexual assault. The doctor referred Jenna to the local emergency room, where a team of doctors examined Jenna verifying that she had been victimized. This may sound like a mother’s worst nightmare, but the sad reality is, the greater disillusionment has been all of the many unexpected obstacles we have encountered in our attempts to obtain justice for Jenna since her assault.

Almost three years later, and the fight continues. Time is running out because the statute of limitations is up in June of this year, and Jenna will lose her window of opportunity to get her day in court. As a determined, resourceful, and well-connected professional in North Carolina, I have sought help for my daughter in many ways. I’ve worked with the local police department, the Attorney General’s office and various other state agencies, but to my complete astonishment, the response has been minimal. This journey has been incredibly painful and long. I know Jenna is not alone, and this harrowing experience has created a deep desire to do more to address these seemingly monumental barriers to justice. Here are some realizations I’ve come to that I hope will fuel the fire for change where change is so desperately needed:

  • It is unacceptable to say because Jenna cannot fully identify the circumstances, the suspect or other details of what happened, that the case is unsubstantiated. This allows for no detailed examination of the victim’s rights or what actually happened. We must provide supports and accommodations to help protect crime victims with disabilities.
  • In Jenna’s case, it seemed that all involved were acting on behalf of everyone except my daughter, the victim with disabilities. The assumption was that she could not provide credible testimony given her disabilities and that this would hurt the chance of prosecution, even though we had evidence of blunt force trauma via private investigation.
  • The process of obtaining justice is lengthy, clumsy and lacks uniform protocol, and the associated expense keeps many from being able to afford the help they need. Most victims would probably give up before they even get started. There is not enough protection for victims with disabilities or legislation to address the type of changes needed to fully support these individuals. There are not enough safeguards in place to discourage the same thing that happened to my daughter from happening to others.
  • The media may help with an occasional story, but only a few reporters have dug deeper into Jenna’s story in the attempt to reveal all the layers of this issue and the multiple barriers to justice we have faced.
  • An alarming number of people with disabilities are being victimized all across our state of North Carolina, and throughout the country, on a routine basis because of the lack of attention paid to this issue. We need a greater focus on training efforts and oversight to ensure safety of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Those outside of the disability community may be surprised to know that people with disabilities are raped or sexually assaulted at four times the rate of those without disabilities. It’s also more common for people with I/DD to experience multiple victimizations throughout their lives, and rarely do these victims get the justice they deserve or the help they need to cope with what happened to them. The sheer amount of trauma this population in particular has had to experience, with no relief or way to process what has happened to them, is hard to fathom.

My daughter and I are thankful for The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® and their work with families, victims and others. Until people with disabilities are fully included in sexual assault awareness efforts, and the supports are in place to help women, like Jenna, give voice to their own stories of victimization – the violence will continue. This month is Sexual Assault Awareness month, it provides a great opportunity to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate our communities about ways to prevent it. Sexual violence is a major public health, human rights and social justice issue. As parents, we can partner with organizations like The Arc and NCCJD which are working to bring disability and victim advocates and agencies together to address this issue, and writing publications to provide practical suggestions on how each one of us can be a part of the solution.

We all have a role to play to educate others about the high rate of sexual assault of people with I/DD, and each one of us must do our part to help these victims. Together, I believe we can create real change in the systems serving crime victims with disabilities, as we fight for the day when we can say with a resounding YES! to the question:

Will there ever be justice for Jenna?

10 thoughts on “Will There Ever Be Justice for Jenna?

  1. Is there a suspect, is there DNA evidence? As a father of a daughter on the spectrum, I would really be interested in some/any of the details of the case. I couldn’t find anything on-line.

  2. Ms. Clayton, Have you investigated this as being a violation of Jenna’s civil rights through IDEA, ADA…to me this is a clear violation of inclusiveness. The IDEA law was designed for much of that nonsegregated activity that was so horribly used in past decades…

    It is just a thought…

  3. I’m am incredibly sad and somber about Jenna’s experience. You are right this happens fair too often and it’s apauling ! I teach sexuality education with my co- facilitator, Rebecca. When we give the statistics to parents I get emotional as I have an adult son with disabilities. I say to the parents, it’s not “if” it’s “when” – I join you in wanting better from the legal system. Thank you for all your effort for justice for your daughter and for your advocacy to help all disability victims!

  4. I have an adult autistic/devel disabled brother. He’s been taught that only his primary doctor or me can only see or tough his penis or butt. He’s easily led, as most of the popuation is, so sexual abuse is a real concern. And the higher functioning disabled people will consent to sex as a confused way to feel loved. Can you prosecute as you would in a child abuse case, being her IQ may match one of a child?

  5. I empathize and am horrified this happened to Jenna, but I am also upset as a fellow survivor of sexual assault that the identity and privacy of Jenna has been violated. While well intended by a strong parent advocate, naming and providing a photo of a sexual assault victim is never OK regardless of guardianship or intellectual status. Please think about this before doing this again. I will definitely share this story, though, with other disability and justice professionals appropriately to see if I can be of help, but please preserve her privacy from here on. Every sexual assault survivor at least deserves privacy. I hope justice is served in this situation. It’s definitely heartbreaking and appalling how limited help can be for crime victims with disabilities.

  6. Welcome to the new “normal” in America . Having been through this myself with my late brother who had ALS and was raped by a caretaker my family received ZERO help from Mecklenburg DA Peter Gilchrist! What a pathetic corrupt and utterly shallow human being he turned out to be! Where are the so called advocacy laws and representatives for this group of people who cannot defend themselves? My heart actually feels for you having experienced this myself. There are other methods however,that can be utilized to seek justice for this type of situation. Maybe there should be an investigation into why those not touched by the disabled community ignore it, avoid enforcing laws affecting them and why the local powers that be appear to be involved with the disabled for profit! Something to ponder over morning coffee.

  7. My daughter’s story is very similiar to Jenna’s. The secondary trauma is the things she says not being believed, being told she heard these things on TV or deemed unreliable by police and some other professionals. The investigation which consisted of talking to largely non-verbal people and day support providers who may have committed the acts, yielded nothing so my daughters case was classified as unfounded as well. 18 months later I still deal with what was done to my daughter and her need for continuing support by taking her to a counselor who specializes in sexual assault cases. As her mom, I also continue to assure my daughter when she has flash backs, tell her she is safe now when she worries that a person will kill her because she told their “secret” and worries about her personal safety. The person who inappropriately touched my daughter is most likely still providing support services to largely non-verbal people who can not say what was done to them. That same person is also not flagged in any sexual offender registry. What is wrong with this picture?? Thank you for sharing Jenna’s story. If we do not talk about this issue things will never change

  8. I am so sad to hear about your daughter and what happened to her. and the frustration with our legal system.
    This is my biggest worry for my moderate to severely autistic daughter who is 6 years old now. What can I do to prevent this, and to help change the laws.
    Any advice or direction is much appreciated.

  9. I feel that video cameras need to be in all areas where our precious ones are cared for. And don’t tell me it’s too expensive

  10. As a psychotherapist serving individuals. with I/DD for over 30 yrs. in Massachusetts I can agree with you about the higher incidents of sexual trauma to people with I/DD and the weak response from the justice system to help people with I/DD who have been sexually victimized. In fact this is why I became involved with providing therapy for adults with I/DD. Not only is the justice system weak but families tend to back off or want to move toward denial that their loved one has been traumatized. I have been very passionate in working with women and men with I/DD who have been traumatized by sexual abuse,bullied and chronic misunderstanding. There is still a stigma toward I/DD men that they will sexually abuse their younger more vulnerable neighbors. I am encouraged that there is more treatment available to work with I/DD men who have traumatized their peers and children. I have been to a few conferences where there have been investigators and lawyers who are more sensitive to the needs of people with I/DD who have difficulty with time reference, guilt by association, discerning past events from present events, fear of retaliation if the victim tells and difficulty identifying their perpetrators. One of the sad facts is that most people are sexually traumatized by people they know which includes family members, bus/van drivers, neighbors, janitors, teachers, and residential providers. I hope Jenna and her family can find the resolution and peace they deserve. Diana

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