The #metoo epidemic no one talks about

The #metoo movement has brought down many powerful men who abused their positions to sexually harass and abuse women and men. NPR has a series on an epidemic of sexual assault that has been persistent, under reported, and rarely prosecuted. 

The epidemic, the word NPR uses, of sexual assault is against individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/D). These members of one of the most vulnerable populations are sexually assaulted by a multiple of seven than others who are at risk of being victims.

As though the shockingly high rate isn’t bad enough, what is made worse by the incidence of sexual assault against those with ID/D is that very often the abusers are those who know their victims due to being in positions where they should be trusted: bus drivers, caregivers in group community homes, and their supposed “friends.”

The NPR series covers horrible instances of sexual abuse. Just one exemplifies the horror: a high school girl was lured by members of the sports teams to a basement in the school where she was repeatedly raped.

That story is part of a feature in the series on the other challenge facing this epidemic: the difficulty in prosecuting the abusers. Due to the victims often having limited communication, non-linear recall of events, and being too shocked and scared to have to relive it through testimony, abusers are more likely to not face any prosecution.

Fortunately, in the case of the high school student, a tenacious and patient district attorney did bring charges and receive convictions against her abusers. But that is the exception that proves the rule.

The #metoo movement has resulted in famous careers being ended, awards banquet attire coordinated to show solidarity against sexual assault, and calls for wholesale changes in practices and policies to minimize future instances and increase penalties for violations.

The same and more is needed given the epidemic level of abuse against those with ID/D and given that often the abusers work within already regulated systems as state-funded caregivers.

One would think this would be simple. But, it seems nothing is in this world.

Here in my home state of Kentucky, Donovan Fornwalt, CEO of the Council on Developmental Disabilities, has led advocates to call for needed changes. These changes should be a matter of common sense: requiring caregivers in facilities and homes caring for the vulnerable to be required to undergo and pass background checks, including criminal background checks, and be part of a registry where employers and families can check on who is caring for their residents and loved ones. However, such common sense measures faced opposition from other facilities claiming it would increase administrative costs (and also perhaps deny them access to employees who may work for less given limited employment opportunities from having a criminal record).

Through persistence and hard work, the registry and background checks was finally passed into law. But it took longer than such a measure should and even when passed, it is voluntary, not mandatory. Governor Beshear, in whose administration it passed, issued an executive order making compliance mandatory. Following urging by facilities, Governor Beshear’s successor, Governor Bevin rescinded the executive order. Who knows what abuse occurred while the legislation was debated in multiple sessions and what abuse may now be occurring in those facilities that opt out of joining the registry.

Hopefully movements like #metoo and the focused reporting NPR conducted will result in needed, real change to minimize the chance of future abuse.

And, hopefully, these efforts will effect a culture change where opposition will be lessened so that improvements are made, instead of delayed or rendered only voluntary to preserve a few jobs or dollars to the bottom line.

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