Ensuring Rights for Crime Victims with Disabilities
Leslie Myers, Dan Petersen  -  2010/3/11
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
what is the best approach in dealing with victims who say their disability is mental illness when their veracity is in question as to the events of the crime.
 
1.  Dan Petersen
 Hi Anita, Thanks for the question. Since it is a bit difficult to ask for clarification, please know that I am going to respond based on several interpretations of the question. Hopefully, with one of my answers you will get the desired response. To start, I have to ask a question of you to make the point. If the person did not have a mental illness would you still question their veracity. I am trying to make the point that some people perceive mental illness as meaning the person is unable to accurately report observed facts or experienced events. This is rarely the case and should never be assumed. So if I ask a person with a different cognitive ability or someone with a diagnosed mental illness what happened to them, they will relay facts as their ability allows. The interpretation of facts may be another issue. Veracity has very little to do with mental illness.If the person with a different ability has a history of lying or giving false information, then they should be treated like any other person who has a history of giving false information. There is another implication from your question. If I read your question another way it implies that the person is using their own mental illness as an apology for not being believed. As with any person who is a crime victim, reporting the events of a crime may be difficult for a host of reasons. A person with a mental illness could have all those reasons as well as a history of people not valuing their comments because of ignorance with respect to mental illness. With that history it is possible for a person to internalize that prejudice as their problem. That is simply a mistake and we can provide supports and comfort to them to help them express the events of the crime, hopefully, without fear of being blamed or ridiculed or even not believed.
 
2.  Leslie
 People with mental illness are victimized at higher rates than the general population (8x more likely to be robbed, 15x more likely to be assaulted and 23x more likely to raped People with mental illness more often crime victims (2005) Psychiatric Association, Psychiatric News Vol 40m #17 page 16) Often the perpetrators of these crimes rely on the police, courts, etc. to discredit the victim based on hisher mental illness. Depending on the diagnosis, medication usenonuse, etc. victims with mental illness should be dealt with just like every other victim. Certainly there may be accommodations that are needed, such as taking frequent breaks (some medications make people tired), letting the individual set the pace of the interview (to avoid frustration due to confusion which may be a symptom of the illness or a side-effect of medication. Individuals who are symptomatic may need to have that addressed first since trauma may exacerbate the persons illness. Including relevant people, police, prosecutors, etc. in on the interview or watching the interview can eliminate the need to repeat the details therefore lesson the chance of the story varying.
 
 
Is there a comprehensive list that includes types of disabilities? If so, does it include services available for crime victims or service providers relating to each type of disability?
 
1.  Dan Petersen
 Mary, To get a direct answer to this question, you could contact NCIL, the National Council on Independent Living. They can be emailed as ncil@ncil.org. I have worked with the people at NCIL and they are fantastic and I am sure could answer you question and even give you contact information for your local ILC. Dan
 
2.  Leslie
 I would guess that most do not, I work at an ILC and we have partnered with Legal Action so that victims with disabilities have access to free legal services. think about collaborating with your local ILC and you can pool resources and maybe apply for grants together to address the gaps in services.
 
3.  Mary
 Do ILCs have access to funds or services for elderly and vulnerable adults who have disabilities and are in need of legal representation or guardian ad litem?
 
4.  Dan Petersen
 Brooke, It is difficult for me to answer your question since the range of capabilities and disabilities is so great and the services to match them also so diverse. Advocacy agencies exist for most people with a disability and they can be found on line. If advocacy services or the identification of services is something you are looking for to help an adult then I would direct you to seek out your local Independent Living Center (ILC). Over the last ten or more years ILCs have been attempting to work closely with victim service agencies. Those partnerships are well worth developing. Dan
 
 
There seems to be so many nuances to the ADA ... How can it be utilized to ensure rights for crime victims with disabilities?
 
1.  Dan Petersen
 There is a premise to the ADA and it is the basis, I believe, for making appropriate decisions. It is about giving each person voice, choice, and equal access. My personal opinion is that this was a significant and very important piece of legislation and it provides a foundation for looking at discrimination or in some cases ignorance (a failure to know). I would also argue that we as a culture can do even better than the ADA requires. There are experts in the ADA and often they can be found at an ILC if you have a specific question. Dan
 
2.  Leslie
 Certainly the ADA is meant to ensure access as well as serving to end discrimination. You can use the ADA to ensure equal access to courts, such as the provision of interpreters, materials in alternate formats or even holding the court in an alternate location to make it accessible are a couple of ways. It is also useful for dealing with the police, in that qualified interpreters should be provided onsite of a crime and during questioning...the ADA can also be useful in planning ahead and ensuring that victim service providers become accessible to people with disabilities
 
 
What are some common obstacles or barriers that are experienced by individuals representing crime victims with disabilities?
 
1.  Leslie
 Certainly some of the barriers that exist can be overcome with the appropriate accommodations. It is important to remember that individuals with disabilities often have a vast array of support people, i.e. caseworkers, personal care workers, group home staff, doctors, therapist and others....while sometimes these individuals may become barriers in and of themselves, they can also serve as a tool to help you work effectively with the individual. Always remember that it is the person themself that is the expert on what they need to be sure to ask...dealing with the stigma of disability will become an issue for those working with an individual with a disability. It can be quite eye opening to find yourself being stigmatized just because you are working with someone....the ADA also covers people associated with individuals with disabilities so there is an avenue for you to take if needed.
 
2.  Dan Petersen
 Great question. Obviously, trust is a big issue for any victim but for someone who may have experienced discrimination because of a disability then this can be a barrier. That is on the victimadvocate relationship side and establishing that trust comes from how the advocate listens and responds to the person from the start. On the service side, the advocate takes on the responsibility to advocate for a person where society and other professionals may have a cultural bias. As an example, I made the case for allowing a crime victim to take the stand in the courtroom and testify. The judge was skeptical because the victim used a communication board. It worked out but that is an example of a barrier unique to some people with a certain type of disability. Dan
 
 
have tested some tty victim helplines and found them to be dysfunctional. what are good ways to encourage organizations to rountinely check these lines and have trained staff to help? (fully aware that tty use gradually declining but will remain viable communication method for years still)
 
1.  Leslie
 I have to agree with Dan. Everyone knows right away when the phones are not working but little attention is given to TTYs and the associated number. I would suggest encouraging a continuing ed type of thing where every so often have someone from one of the community based programs come in an do some training/retraining.
 
2.  Dan Petersen
 Travis, My experience is that TTY problems are more common than any of us would like. In my community there is a tendency to move away from TTY and use other forms of digital communication. I know from some of our ILCs in Kansas that this is preferred. I do not have a universal answer to your question regarding getting agencies to maintain their TTY lines. That they should is imperative and TTY is still an important communication tool. It would be nice if there was a mandatory process for checking them much as we do for fire alarms, elevators, electronic doors, etc. Local communities or agencies may want to set up policies to do something of that sort. Depending on the agency being contacted and the nature of the call, there is a strong ethical mandate to have these devices working properly. Dan
 
 
most states require victims be informed about the status of their cases (trial dates, etc.) and/or their offender (e.g., incarcerated, to be released, etc.). Can y'all offer examples of 'best practices' for info/notification for the diverse population of victims w/ disabilities? thanks!
 
1.  Leslie
 Not sure if there is a difference between informing victims with disabilities versus informing victims without disabilities. Certainly providing that information in a way that is best understood by the victim is key. An advocate who has worked with the individual will likely know how best to relay that information.
 
2.  Dan Petersen
 Travis, As you know all victims have a right to notification. Perhaps Leslie can identify some promising practice models to look at. However, to answer your question and perhaps speak to a broader audience, it is important that the person being notified have choice about the manner in which that notification occurs. Accommodations become part of the ADA and should apply in these situations. So, for example, if a person has a need for large print or would like the notification to come via an electronic online secure method, then that would seem appropriate. Dan
 
 
What is the current movement toward assuring victims of crime, especially the elderly or vulnerable adult, is provided legal representation in court proceedings. In particular, adult protective services orders indicating client is not capable of directing their own care. Courts indicate it is difficult to get pro bono attorneys or GAL and rely solely on APS to represent the victim.
 
1.  Leslie
 Well this is a difficult question since the representation of the victim should be the prosecutor. Directing their own care is different than situations related to the victimization and having a GAL or APS in court for the victim seems to me to be blaming the victim for the crime. Other proceedings like divorce, etc. are cases where a GAL might be necessary. I hope that this does not become a movement as it would surely discourage victims with disabilities from coming forward and reporting crimes.
 
 
I am in the process of exploring the development of a protocol to ensure that individuals with disabilities in Iowa, who are victims of violence and abuse, receive appropriate and effective victim services. The protocol would create partnerships among the fields of victim assistance, advocacy for persons with disabilities, and allied professions on "Responding to Crime Victims with Disabilities." Are there any grants which will assist me in this very important program?
 
1.  Lionel Foster
 Thank you for your helpful information. I am very familiar with the Wisconsin DART program. In fact, I have a copy of it in my office. I currently have 18 diverse service providers interested in participating in a DART like activity, but unfortunately many of those I have canvassed, have a working knowledge a coalition approach. So, the grant would allow a two day training program. Thanks again.
 
2.  Leslie
 OVW offers a grant that is focused on collaboration. In Milwaukee we developed DART (Disability Abuse Response Team) we have about 25 community partners. The development of the protocol, the monthly meetings and the coordinated response have been done with $0. The partners have done this because it is the right thing to do and it makes all of our jobs easier.
 
 
Do you have any advice on how to get a victim to acknowledge a disability? I have had clients in the past that will adamantly deny that they have a disability, though they receive disability benefits and are on medication. This area can become extremely problematic, especially if the client is going to be expected to testify as the defense will bring medications and disability up on cross-examination. Thus, the unwillingness to acknowledge the disability or disabilities can then cause the client to be viewed as deceptive.
 
1.  Dan Petersen
 Micah, This is a difficult question that I could only answer if I knew more about the situation. Still, let me respond in general to your statement. I might try to find out why the person denies receiving benefits. I would also point out that some people do not approve of identifying themselves or others as having a disability. They may simply perceive that they have different capabilities. Labeling of people in our culture who have different capabilities has been problematic and we should seek as a culture to steer away from that. Pragmatically, a defense attorney may take the tactic of attempting to use a person's disability to discredit them. If that is presumed to be a possible tactic then the prosecutor has recourse. Preparing the victim for trial is part of the advocates responsibility and that means informing the person of possible tactics that may be used by a defense attorney. It also may mean informing the victim of how their response may be interpreted. My position is that in the end it is still their choice. Dan
 
2.  Leslie
 There is a lot of stigma related to disabilities and many have heard from their abuser that their disability will discredit them, that is why violence in this community is so high. It is their right to keep that information private. I have worked with individuals who do not want to state their disability and approached this by asking about accommodations they might need. It is also beneficial to remind people of the court process, letting them know that while having a disability or not does not factor into the provision of services you are providing, the need to be honest is essential in court. In some cultures and certainly in the aging population disability is not something that is widely accepted and there are some people who may not see themselves as having a disability.
 
 
Are there any strategies that you could recommend to use in providing supports for sexual assault victims with disabilities during the MFE?
 
1.  Dan Petersen
 Kate, A primary strategy during a medical forensic examination is to ask the person what they need. Unless there is a communication problem this means asking the question in a way the person can understand it and feel safe answering it. If there is a communication problem, then we need to solve the communication issue. Do we need an interpreter? or a communication device? for example. An MFE does not need to occur immediately and that means supports can be found. I would be concerned if the sexual assault involved a family member or caretaker. I say this because some well intentioned people at a hospital might decide on the basis of a communication problem to contact a caretaker/family member unknowingly bringing in the perpetrator of the crime. If the victim self directs then supports, if needed, should be provided for communication. Let them tell you what they need and we need to listen. Dan
 
2.  Leslie
 Taking your tome and explaining every step. There are many women with disabilities who have never had gynecological exams and this process may futher traumatize them so taking the time to go through each step, the reason for the steps. Using pictures can be helpful and allowing the person to bring in a safe person might also be helpful (if you are sure that this person is not the abuser). Physical disabilities pose additional problems as it is necessary to have equipment (like a table that can go all the way down for safe transfer) that does not put the individuals physical health in jeopardy. Also just a reminder that you want to collect evidence from the person's assitive technology devices and even service dogs
 
 
What are some cultural competence strategies to use in communicating with sexual assault victims with developmental disabilities? Particularly if non-verbal, is there a resource on use of anatomically correct dolls, for example?
 
1.  Allison
 OVC has two great resources, CD's and a workbook on Victims with Disabilities the Forensic Interview and Serving Crime Victims with Disabilities. Also, the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse trains on the topic and has training Newsletters called Update available on that and other topics including working with Victims who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and working with victims with developmental disabilities. http://www.ndaa.org/publications/newsletters/update_index.html and the National Children's Advocacy Center and the Midwest Regional Advocacy Center has resources including videocasts on the topic.
 
2.  Leslie
 One thing to remember is that whatever method is used it should also be age appropriate. There are good resources that teach sex education and have large pictures and other items that may help, check out James Stanfield for resources http://www.stanfield.com
 
3.  Dan Petersen
 Kate, There are resources on this. I would expect that PCAR probably has this information. I have seen training materials that are used with very young children and some of those could be adapted to work with adult persons with a developmental disability. Dan
 
 
our state allows video-testimony for some child witness to violence, there is a workgroup looking into a developing a similar protocol for victims w/disabilities. Are there other states out there that have such protocols in place or are in the process of developing them that anyone knows of?
 
1.  Leslie
 I am unaware of any states, you might want to check with Dr. Nora Baladerian, Director of the Disability, Abuse and Personal Rights Project in Los Angeles, to see if she has used this method or knows of others...
 
 
Are there any local law enforcement agencies that you consider Models in their efforts to try to ensure rights for crime victims with disabilities?
 
1.  Leslie
 In Springfield, Illinois, the police collaborated with community based programs to deal with caregiver abuse, do not know if they are still doing the project but that was one I had heard of a while back.
 
2.  Dan Petersen
 Hi Tim, I do not know of any model programs but that does not mean they do not exist. I do know a professor that worked at Cal State Fresno, Marsha Tarver, did a lot of work with law enforcement in this area. I do not have her current contact information but she did teach at one time in the Criminal Justice program there. Perhaps, if you are the Tim Woods I know you could suggest a few model programs or programs working in this area. Dan
 
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