States Aim To Halt Sexual Abuse Of People With Intellectual Disabilities An NPR investigation found people with intellectual disabilities have one of the nation's highest rates of sexual assault. Now states, communities and advocates are proposing changes to prevent abuse.

States Aim To Halt Sexual Abuse Of People With Intellectual Disabilities

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Earlier this year, we told you about a group with some of the highest rates of sexual assault. In a series of NPR stories, we reported about people with intellectual disabilities and how our data shows they are sexually assaulted at seven times the rate of other adults.

THOMAS BAFFUTO: Those statistics are staggering. I mean, they're just staggering.

KELLY: That is Thomas Baffuto of the advocacy group the Arc of New Jersey. Now, citing NPR's reports, states, communities and advocates are making new efforts to change those statistics. NPR's Joseph Shapiro has the latest.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: In Pennsylvania, legislation has advanced to make it easier people with intellectual disabilities to testify at trial. A lawmaker in California proposed a bill to give prosecutors extra funding for these cases. In Massachusetts, a proposed law would create a registry of abusive caregivers even if the case didn't go to trial. These reforms aim at the reasons perpetrators often go unpunished. Because people with intellectual disabilities may have difficulty speaking or remembering details, it's hard for them to testify in court.


SHAPIRO: The Arc of New Jersey, an advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities, called a summit earlier this month. State officials, prosecutors, parents, advocates and people who work in the disability field - about 50 of them - gathered.

JAMES MEADOURS: I remember back - I think it's in the '80s, if someone could correct me if I'm wrong - like, '86 or '88.

SHAPIRO: James Meadours was in our series. He's a man with an intellectual disability. He's a rape survivor. Meadours, who's come from Texas, talks about a case he remembers hearing about.

MEADOURS: A case in New Jersey with a lady with a Down syndrome, got assaulted by the football team, the local high school football team.

SHAPIRO: In Glen Ridge, N.J., the sexual assault of that young woman with an intellectual disability was the first case to get widespread national attention. Meadours says that case was significant for him because he says he was sexually assaulted around that time, but he didn't even know what to call what happened to him. And then he saw those news stories.

MEADOURS: This is the first time I heard it because that really kind of woke me up.

SHAPIRO: What Meadours doesn't know is that the prosecutor who fought and won that case is in his audience today. James Meadours is about to meet Robert Laurino.

MEADOURS: I hear about you. I...

ROBERT LAURINO: I was the prosecutor in that case you were talking about from New Jersey back in the '80s. It's right, 1989.

MEADOURS: '89. I was close.

LAURINO: 1989. You were close. You were very close because...

MEADOURS: I think I have to come and talk to your attorneys.

LAURINO: I would love you to come to talk to my attorneys. Yes.

SHAPIRO: This summit was called to develop a plan to lower the rates of sexual assault. After James Meadours speaks, the people in the room brainstorm ideas. Then someone from each table stands up to report their recommendations.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One of our ideas was essentially a public service campaign that we would call hashtag Us Too. And if you click on...

BAFFUTO: We also talked about the need for a hotline for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities to not only report abuse and neglect but also get help and get connected to supports and services. But a very...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah. It was really about changing societal perceptions as well as professionalizing the field. So investing in...

BAFFUTO: We think schools have to require more sex education, not less. And we talked about ways...

SHAPIRO: Many of the solutions involve training people with intellectual disabilities themselves. Often they didn't get sex education in schools. So states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Florida are spending more money for trainings about healthy relationships and how to spot abuse. They're first steps to cut those high rates of sexual assault. Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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