Supreme Court Reaffirms Commitment to Clinical Standards, Not Stereotypes, In Determining Intellectual Disability in Death Penalty Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam (published in the name of the Court rather than specific judges) opinion today reversing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) and finding that Bobby Moore is a person with intellectual disability and his execution is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“The Arc applauds the Court’s decision today which again embraces the standards-based approach in determining intellectual disability for which The Arc has long advocated. When it comes to matters of life and death, there is simply no room for courts to ground their determinations of intellectual disability in outmoded and baseless stereotypes. The Arc is grateful to the Court for taking a strong stance today to ensure that its precedent on this issue is properly interpreted in jurisdictions around the country,” said Marty Ford, Senior Advisor, The Arc.

This is the second time Mr. Moore has sought relief from the Supreme Court and won. In 2017, in the same case, the Court rejected Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.” The Court then sent the case back to the TCCA to determine whether Mr. Moore had intellectual disability in light of its opinion. Following the TCCA’s 2018 finding that he did not have intellectual disability, Mr. Moore again petitioned for Supreme Court review. Notably, the prosecutor in Mr. Moore’s case—the district attorney of Harris County—filed a brief in support of Mr. Moore noting that, in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 opinion, Mr. Moore is an individual with intellectual disability who cannot be executed.

In its opinion today, the Court noted that “Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability” and that the most recent TCCA opinion must be reversed because it continued to exhibit “lay stereotypes” of people with intellectual disability despite the Supreme Court’s clear instruction to rely on well-established clinical standards instead. Chief Justice Roberts, in a concurring opinion, noted that while he still believes the original Moore opinion “lacked clarity,” “it is easy to see that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals misapplied it here…the court repeated the same errors that this Court previously condemned…” Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, dissented, noting that “The error in this litigation was not the state court’s decision on remand but our own failure to provide a coherent rule of decision in Moore.

The Arc filed amicus briefs on Mr. Moore’s behalf when he first went before the Supreme Court in 2016 and again when his case was remanded to the TCCA in 2017.

In its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability and banned their execution as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Subsequently, in Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. The Court’s 2017 and 2019 decisions in Moore v. Texas have strengthened this precedent by emphasizing the need to rely on well-established clinical standards—rather than stereotypes—in making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we supported appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc did not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Moore or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with ID and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

Two of The Arc’s Programs to Receive Prestigious Zero Project Awards

The Arc of the United States is pleased to announce two of its programs, Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® and the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD)’s Pathways to Justice®, have been named 2019 Zero Project Awardees. The Zero Project is an initiative of the Essl Foundation that recognizes and provides a platform for the world’s most innovative and effective solutions to problems faced by people with disabilities around the world. The Arc’s programs are being recognized this year for outstanding contributions towards promoting independent living and political participation, the 2019 Zero Project Awards’ themes.

“The Arc of the United States has long fought to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are included in all aspects of society, and that the civil rights of people with I/DD are respected in every context,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, “We are proud that Wings for Autism/Wings for All and NCCJD’s Pathways to Justice will be recognized as Zero Project awardees this year.”

Pathways to Justice and Wings for Autism are among 76 policies and practices selected by an international group of 3,000 experts who take part in a multi-round voting and selection process. The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns as well as leadership from the two recognized programs will accept the award in Vienna, Austria in February.

Since 2013, NCCJD has endeavored to improve the criminal justice system’s response to victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and prisoners with I/DD. The Center’s signature program, Pathways to Justice, offers specialized training and support to develop local, multidisciplinary Disability Response Teams composed of criminal justice and disability leaders, including self-advocates, to improve local justice systems. NCCJD has trained over 5,000 justice professionals in 12 different states since 2015.

“Societies can’t be inclusive without equal access to justice for ALL, including people with disabilities. Pathways to Justice is revolutionizing the way the criminal justice system sees and interacts with people with developmental disabilities, laying the groundwork for inclusive justice to take root and flourish across the country,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Director of NCCJD.

Originated by the Charles River Center, a local chapter of The Arc in Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Port Authority, Wings for Autism/Wings for All is an airport “rehearsal” program created to alleviate some of the stress that individuals with I/DD and their families experience when traveling by air. The program also provides vital training and educational resources on disability competency to airport, airline, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff and volunteers.

From 2014 to 2018, Wings for Autism has held over 130 trainings in almost 60 airports throughout the United States and has supported more than 18,000 people with autism and other disabilities, as well as their families. Additionally, the program has trained more than 1,800 aviation professionals in disability competency and inclusion.

“The Wings for Autism/Wings for All program has successfully helped thousands of individuals with disabilities and their families enjoy the basic right to travel and live independently. Simultaneously, we’ve supported aviation professionals across the country to create safe and inclusive spaces in airports to better accommodate travelers with disabilities. We are honored to be in the company of so many other great organizations who are also addressing independent living issues on an individual and systemic level as well,” said Kerry Mauger, Program Manager of Wings for Autism.

The Arc Expands “Talk About Sexual Violence” Project to Focus on Men With Disabilities

The Arc of the United States is pleased to announce the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®) received a grant from the WITH Foundation to expand its successful initiative Talk About Sexual Violence (TASV). TASV was born out of a partnership between The Arc’s NCCJD and the Board Resource Center (BRC) and serves as a platform for educating healthcare professionals on how to talk to their patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) about sexual violence. The WITH Foundation’s grant will expand the program’s current focus on women survivors to include resources about male survivors and the unique barriers they face in disclosing or reporting sexual violence.

Efforts to address sexual violence—even movements like #MeToo—have typically focused on women. However, men also experience sexual violence and have comparatively few resources to support them. Research shows that 14% of men with disabilities will experience violent victimization compared to 4% of men without disabilities. Men are less likely than women to disclose an assault, and men with I/DD may be even less likely due to additional challenges they face if they do speak out about it or report it. Health care providers are generally not asking male patients about sexual assault and may not know how to respond if a patient does disclose. 

NCCJD’s Director, Leigh Ann Davis, who has worked in the field of sexual violence prevention of people with disabilities for over 20 years and is a survivor herself, states: “This is a topic of urgent national importance, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to addressing sexual trauma experienced by men with I/DD. With support from The WITH Foundation, we can expand our current project, reach new audiences, build new partnerships with male-focused sexual assault organizations and plant seeds for prevention, detection, and healing in the future.”

Health care professionals are in a frontline position to educate patients about and potentially prevent sexual violence. The primary challenge facing health care professionals is lack of training and experience in speaking directly to people with disabilities about this critical issue which can have dire consequences in the person’s life when left untreated, both emotionally and physically. TASV will work to reduce this gap in knowledge by creating brief video clips with supporting training materials healthcare professionals can use to educate and prepare themselves for these sensitive discussions.

While this project will focus its efforts in California, the initiative will have national reach and impact. This grant is part of a larger grant program by The WITH Foundation that is dedicated to addressing the issue of sexual violence against people with disabilities. The WITH Foundation has provided close to $258,000 to six organizations to fund a variety of programs that promote comprehensive and accessible healthcare for adults with I/DD.

“It is a privilege to support these efforts as they work to enhance healthcare delivery models, increase the understanding of supported decision-making, and/or address critical issues for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities” said Ryan Easterly, Executive Director of the WITH Foundation.

 

The Arc Responds to Appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court

 

Today, The Arc responded to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court. In August, The Arc came out in opposition to Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the highest court based on his decisions on cases involving self-determination of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), education, employment, and his stances on the Affordable Care Act and school choice.

The Arc has not publicly opposed a nominee to the Supreme Court in 30 years, since 1987 when Judge Robert Bork was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. When Judge Gorsuch was nominated to the highest court, The Arc did a thorough analysis of his record and decided to not oppose his appointment. The Arc solely takes positions based on the core values, mission statement, position statements, and public policy agenda for the organization.

“The Arc is disappointed in the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, this is a devastating blow to disability and civil rights in our country. After a thorough analysis of Judge Kavanaugh’s record we chose to oppose his appointment and activate our grassroots network. Our organization was founded to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We couldn’t sit by idly knowing that Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a disregard for the impact of his judicial philosophy on the lives of people with disabilities and their families time and time again.

“Particularly concerning is his opinion in Doe. V. Tarlow, a case where women with intellectual disability who resided in the District of Columbia’s Forest Haven institution brought a class action lawsuit against the District for violating their due process rights. The District, through its developmental disabilities agency, consented to subject them to non-emergency surgical procedures, including abortions and eye surgeries, without even talking to them and their family members. Judge Kavanaugh’s ruling is disturbing in his apparent lack of appreciation for the humanity of individuals with intellectual disability, their basic human rights, and their ability and right to participate in important life decisions even when found legally unable to make decisions by themselves.

“We believe Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment poses a threat to the civil rights of millions of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. It is shocking that so many Senators ignored the gaps in Judge Kavanaugh’s knowledge and understanding of the value and perspectives of people with intellectual disability. Even more disheartening is those Senators who ignored the pleas of their constituents with disabilities who called on them to oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment. We appreciate those who stood up for their constituents, their support did not go unnoticed. We remain united with our colleagues across the disability and civil rights communities and will continue our advocacy to support the values we hold dear as an organization,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Partners with the Vera Institute of Justice on National Initiative to Improve Police Responses to Persons with Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

People living with mental health disabilities and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are disproportionately represented in contacts with law enforcement and other first responders, as well as in every part of the criminal justice system, including jails and prisons. While people with I/DD comprise 2 to 3 percent of the general population, they represent 4 to 10 percent of the prison population.

Interactions with law enforcement can be extremely harmful to community members with disabilities. These interactions are also challenging for responding officers, who do not always have the tools or resources to understand disability. Conservative estimates show that at least 10 percent of calls to police involve people who have mental health disabilities and that 50 to 80 percent of police encounters involve persons with some type of disability. In response to this critical need, the Vera Institute of Justice—in cooperation with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and in partnership with a consortium of organizations, including The Arc—is launching Serving Safely: The National Initiative to Enhance Policing for Persons with Mental Illnesses and Developmental Disabilities. This new initiative is designed to promote collaborative responses for people with mental health disabilities and I/DD who come into contact with the police to improve outcomes and the safety of all parties.

Through Serving Safely, The Arc, Vera, BJA, and other partners will work together to minimize unnecessary detention and incarceration of persons with mental health and developmental disabilities, strengthen connections to community-based supports and services, and grow meaningful partnerships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

The Arc has a long history of work in the criminal justice field and is thrilled to be partnering with Vera on this project. In 2013, The Arc created the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®). This is the first national center of its kind serving as a bridge between the I/DD community and criminal justice community that focuses on both victim and suspect/defendant/incarcerated person issues. The Center provides training and technical assistance; resources for professionals, people with disabilities, and their supporters; and educates the public about the intersection of criminal justice reform and the advancement of disability rights. Pathways to Justice®, NCCJD’s signature training curriculum, is a comprehensive, community-based training program that helps criminal justice professionals—including law enforcement—understand disability, disability culture, and professionals’ legal obligations toward the disability community.

NCCJD is building the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond appropriately to gaps in existing services for people with disabilities, focusing on people with I/DD, who often remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system, with little or no access to advocacy supports or services. Vera will be partnering directly with the experts and staff that run NCCJD on Serving Safely.

Other key partners on the project include:

  • American College of Emergency Physicians
  • CIT International
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • National Disability Rights Network
  • Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence
  • Dr. Amy Watson, University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Dr. Michael Compton

Serving Safely has already started to accept requests from law enforcement agencies for training and technical assistance at www.vera.org/projects/serving-safely/training-and-technical-assistance. If you are interested in learning more about The Arc’s role in the Serving Safely initiative, please email NCCJDinfo@thearc.org.

About The Arc
The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and cerebral palsy. The Arc has a network of nearly 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

About the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization working with governments to build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities. For more information about Serving Safely and the Vera Institute of Justice, see www.vera.org/projects/serving-safely.

The Arc Responds to Supreme Court Decision to Decline Review of Brendan Dassey Case

Washington, DC – Washington, D.C. – Today, The U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant review of Dassey v. Dittman. Brendan Dassey, a young man with social, learning, and developmental disabilities, was a central figure in Netflix’s smash docuseries, Making a Murderer He was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 16 after conviction for first-degree homicide, rape, and mutilation of a corpse based solely on his confession – no physical evidence linked him to the crime.

Dassey appealed the conviction on the grounds that his confession was involuntary. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected this argument and affirmed Dassey’s conviction. A federal district court and a divided panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that this rejection warranted habeas relief, but by a 4-3 vote, the en banc Seventh Circuit disagreed. Dassey’s attorneys then made an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case, Dassey may spend the rest of his life in prison.

The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, released this statement following the news that the nation’s highest court will not review Dassey’s case:

“This is a sad day for Brendan Dassey and his family, as well as our criminal justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to not review this case means that Brendan will likely serve life in prison based solely on a dubiously obtained confession.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the issue of false confessions by juveniles in almost four decades. There has been significant growth of knowledge and understanding of how adolescents can be more susceptible to authority figures, coercion, and misleading tactics in the last four decades.  This is particularly true for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Brendan Dassey has already been incarcerated for over a decade, solely on the basis of an unreliable confession. Now the reality of life in prison for a crime there is no physical evidence he committed is sinking in. Sadly, our prisons and jails hold many Brendan Dasseys, too often forgotten, some not even recognized as being robbed of justice. We have a responsibility to ensure everyone in our country accesses justice the same way, which is why we must acknowledge the gaps in justice many are facing. The Arc will continue fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and in the aftermath of this case we will only increase our efforts to ensure that justice is appropriately served,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

While people with intellectual and developmental disabilities comprise 2% to 3% of the general population, they represent 4% to 10% of the prison population. Those accused of crimes they did not commit often face the greatest injustices of all, some losing their lives when coerced into giving false confessions. Long before Brendan Dassey’s case hit mainstream media, Robert Perske, respected author, advocate, and long-time supporter of The Arc, compiled a list of people with intellectual disability who gave false confessions to begin documenting these otherwise hidden-away cases.

Earlier this month, The Arc’s Criminal Justice Advisory Panel was launched. The panel is the latest addition to the organization’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability’s® (NCCJD®) ongoing advocacy to protect the rights of people with I/DD involved in the criminal justice system. During this event, The Arc presented, Steven Drizin, Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, with The Perske Award for championing the rights of people with I/DD in the criminal justice system. Drizin was presented the award for a lifetime of work on justice reform for youth and people with disabilities and his representation of Brendan Dassey

Established in 2013, NCCJD is the only national center of its kind serving as a bridge between the I/DD community and criminal justice community that focuses on both victim and suspect/defendant/inmate issues. The center provides training and technical assistance, resources for professionals, people with disabilities, and their supporters, as well as educates the public about the intersection of criminal justice reform and the advancement of disability rights. Pathways to Justice,® NCCJD’s signature training tool, is a comprehensive, community-based training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc that helps criminal justice professionals understand their legal obligations toward the disability community, and includes the topic of false confessions. NCCJD is building the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond appropriately to gaps in existing services for people with disabilities, focusing on people with I/DD, who often remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system, with little or no access to advocacy supports or services.

About The Arc

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and cerebral palsy. The Arc has a network of nearly 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

About The Arc’s Criminal Justice Advisory Panel

The Advisory Panel is the latest addition to NCCJD’s ongoing advocacy to protect the rights of people with I/DD involved in the criminal justice system. It brings together legal professionals who share The Arc’s mission to protect and promote the civil rights of people with I/DD and will help expand NCCJD’s crucial advocacy.

Kecia’s #MeToo Story

WARNING: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault

Individuals with disabilities are seven times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than those without disabilities. Kecia, sexual assault survivor-turned-advocate, is one of those individuals. She was raped, but justice was denied to her because of the failings of our criminal justice system. This is her story, in her words.

Kecia #MeTooI met this man at a self-advocacy meeting and we had very similar hobbies. I invited Michael back to my house to play chess with me. As soon as Michael entered my house, he started to kiss me and then drag me towards the couch where he proceeded to rape me.

I called the police after Michael left to report the rape. They sent a female investigator to take my report. After asking me questions, the investigator told me they would interview Michael about the rape and get back with me. Michael lied and said I wanted to have sexual contact with him. I was informed by a detective later in the week that the case closed since it was a “he said/she said” incident. For the record, I absolutely didn’t want to have any sexual contact with Michael whatsoever.

Shaken up, I called my social service agency for help and reported the rape to my case manager. My case manager listened and filled out a Special Incident Report (SIR) without offering any additional support.

I checked back with my case manager but she didn’t respond back to me for many days. I had to keep calling her to get a response. I never received a copy of the SIR report.

I am unaware if my case manager reported my rape to APS because I never received a visit from a social worker. I am totally unaware if my case manager told anyone else about my rape because once she took my report, she simply stopped responding to me.

The system had totally failed me—law enforcement, my case worker, and the case management agency. As a result of the system failing to help me, I sunk into a deep depression for several years with very severe physical and psychological events.

I am healthy today because I was referred to an excellent in-patient program with specialized therapy and a structured follow up that continues today. I have been in recovery for three years and have gained strength and found my voice so I can speak of the rape incident now.

Today I am an Abuse Awareness Prevention Advocate with the earnest desire to help other individuals rise from abusive situations and become stronger, like I am. It is because of the rape incident that I am a very strong person and I love to help others.

Kecia’s #MeToo story is a stark reminder that society needs to be discussing the very real risk individuals with disabilities are facing every day, every hour, and every minute in this country. This month, NPR released a powerful series on sexual assault and disability that included testimony from survivors – completely in their own words.

This series is drawing national attention to the epidemic facing individuals with disabilities, and we must keep the momentum on this issue going. Only then will we be able to change these jarring statistics and make systemic changes to ensure no victim has to suffer alone. All victims must have a way to tell their stories when they are ready, to be heard and believed, and to get the help they need to move from victim to survivor – just like Kecia did.

Kecia is helping others speak out and get help in many ways. One way is by supporting the work of The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®). Kecia is a National Advisory Committee Member and is working with NCCJD to ensure people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have equal access to the justice system, and that criminal justice professionals are well-trained to understand disability issues. She is also featured in the Talk About Sexual Violence project, which is a compilation of short videos for health care professionals to help them know how to talk to women with disabilities about sexual violence.

Every person has a role to play to STOP sexual assault and violence in the lives of people with disabilities. That includes you.

To support The Arc’s efforts, please contact us to learn how you can get involved in the #MeToo movement for people with disabilities. Share your story, engage leaders in your community, or make a donation.

The Arc Responds to New Report Exposing Abuse and Neglect of Individuals With Disabilities in Group Homes

Washington, DC – At the request of Congress, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General investigated states’ monitoring and reporting of injuries and other critical incidents of people with disabilities living in group homes. Following the investigation, a report was issued that cited numerous incidents of abuse of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in group homes. The report found that up to 99% of these critical incidents were not reported to the appropriate law enforcement or state agencies as required. Below is The Arc’s response to the report:

“We are grateful to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General for its report that draws attention to critical incident reporting in group homes and provides states the tools to address the health and safety of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in their communities. Abuse, neglect, and injuries to people with disabilities must be taken seriously, reported to the appropriate law enforcement or state agencies, and prosecuted as appropriate for crimes committed. System failures must be addressed to ensure improvements.

“The OIG report is certainly cause for alarm and signals the need for rededication and reinvestment to ensure that everyone has the freedom to live safe from harm in their communities. It is important to highlight and appropriately address such jarring results, however, we are concerned that some see this as a call for returning to the time when people with I/DD were placed in institutions and hidden away from the community. This report only focuses on group homes, not on the whole service system including institutions, the narrowness of the report must be taken into consideration and the report must not be used to eliminate options for community living.

“Throughout The Arc’s history we have fought for community inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Everyone deserves the right to choose where and with whom they live and it has been proven that people with disabilities thrive when living, working, and enjoying life in the community with their peers. We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that the services people with disabilities rely on for inclusion remain intact because community supports are critical. When people live in their communities they are visible and their neighbors and friends look out for them and know when something is wrong. We must make no mistake, it is life in the community that really is safest,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

#MeToo: Helping Women with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Talk Openly About Sexual Violence with Health Care Professionals

Sexual Violence Healthcare ProfessionalPrompted by recent news events, women everywhere are speaking up and sharing accounts of sexual violence. Social media feeds have been so inundated with tales of unwanted personal sexual encounters that it has sparked an online media campaign, punctuated by #MeToo. However, women with disabilities may face greater barriers to talking about their own experiences on social media or elsewhere. That’s why, before this hashtag went viral, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®) and The Board Resource Center (BRC) teamed up to highlight the alarming rate of sexual assault among women with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Just this fall these two organizations, with the assistance of a one-year grant from The WITH Foundation, unveiled the Talk About Sexual Violence webpage that includes videos and other resources dedicated to building the capacity of health care professionals to empower female patients with I/DD to talk about and prevent sexual assault.

Research shows that nationally, 1 in 5 women without disabilities are sexually assaulted. However, women with disabilities face even grimmer statistics. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of violent victimization (which includes rape or sexual assault) of people with disabilities is more than three times higher than the rate for people without disabilities. A related survey conducted in 2012 found that out of over 7,000 respondents, only 37.3% of people with disabilities reported any type of victimization to authorities. Many societal factors have allowed this disturbing pattern to continue, including inexperience among health care professionals in broaching the topic of victimization in ways that are accessible and culturally competent for everyone.

Recognizing that health care professionals are in frontline positions to educate their patients about sexual violence, NCCJD® and BRC created easy-to-use resources to address this issue. The materials provide straightforward guidance on how to start a simple, direct and honest conversation with female patients about an all too common experience, and include two short videos: “How to Have the Conversation” and “Kecia Meets with Her Doctor”, available in both English and Spanish. Accompanying the videos are a variety of supplemental materials, including training and communication guides.

These resources are invaluable in the fight against sexual violence of women with I/DD, but the first line of defense is simply believing woman with I/DD when they disclose sexual assault, and listening to their experiences. The goal of The Arc’s Talk About Sexual Violence project is to support women with I/DD to be heard, believed, and supported by receiving prompt and effective medical care and healing services. Every woman deserves a safe environment to honestly admit “MeToo,” and to protect herself from sexual violence.

The Arc Brings Disability Perspective to Police-Led Hate Crimes Advisory Committee

Hate Crimes Panel Group

Leigh Ann Davis, Chief Will Johnson with Arlington Police Department (TX), Peter Berns, Ariel Simms

Since 2013, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®) has served as a bridge between the disability and law enforcement communities, and is the first-of-its-kind national clearinghouse for information and training on the topic of people with I/DD as victims, witnesses, suspects and incarcerated persons. The Arc’s work to elevate these issues led to the opportunity to attend and present at the 2017 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) national convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While at the conference, staff, including CEO of The Arc Peter Berns, participated in the initial “Enhancing the Response to Hate Crimes” Advisory Committee meeting co-hosted by IACP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee). In attendance were law enforcement and civil rights leaders, such as The Anti-Defamation League; the Baltimore Police Department; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and many others from across the country who met to develop an achievable action agenda to improve the criminal justice system’s response to hate crimes. According to the FBI, 1.2% of hate crime victims were targeted because of disability in 2015. Many disability advocates find this statistic misleadingly low, as individuals with I/DD frequently cite barriers to reporting crimes committed against them. In 2015, NCCJD explored these barriers and potential solutions in its white paper, Violence, Abuse and Bullying Affecting People with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities: A Call to Action for the Criminal Justice Community.

“We are proud to lead a committee of such outstanding leaders who are coming together to invest their time and effort into breaking down barriers and strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and the communities that are too often the targets of hate crimes,” said Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke.

Hate Crime Advisory Panel

The Arc’s NCCJD staff presented with Chief Will Johnson and Melissa Bradley with DOJ’s COPS Office on applying procedural justice to situations involving people with disabilities

At this first in a series of four meetings, members began to develop key principles for improving the response to hate crimes. The committee also discussed the many legal, economic, emotional, social, and safety issues that arise in the wake of hate incidents and hate crimes, as well as proposed recommendations on appropriate responses.

Subsequent meetings will continue to solicit input from additional law enforcement and civil rights leaders as well as community members targeted for hate crimes. The committee will use this input to craft an action agenda for community and law enforcement leaders, which will ultimately improve the safety of communities targeted by hate. The Arc is thrilled to participate in this important work, as the organization continually strives to raise awareness among law enforcement and other agencies about the high rate of victimization in the disability community (for more information about training for criminal justice professionals see www.nccjdpathwaystojustice.org). Furthermore, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability works to ensure that any reporting efforts related to hate crimes (and other crimes) include effective outreach methods for people with I/DD who remain traditionally underserved and overlooked in today’s criminal justice system.