Supporting Consumers Who Have Been Sexually Abused
Sexual abuse is usually devastating for anyone. Sadly, persons with developmental disabilities who have been sexually abused are less likely than others to receive needed services and supports. In some cases, the need for these supports may not be sufficiently considered, especially if the person does not communicate with others in a traditional manner. Staff responsible for arranging and coordinating services may not be aware of generic services available in the local community for persons who have been victimized. Further, these services may need to be adapted to effectively address the particular attributes and characteristics of the consumer. In some situations, specialized service options such as counseling by practitioners specially trained to treat persons with disabilities who are victims may be necessary.
Service Coordinators have a vital role in ensuring that consumers are connected to crucial support services. In addition, Service Coordinators must ensure that proper steps are taken when suspected sexual abuse is reported. Unfortunately, these steps can be confusing, overlooked, and lapses in needed follow-up monitoring and coordination may occur . The circumstances or factors that may have contributed to the specific incident must be identified so that needed preventative and corrective actions can be taken to mitigate the risk of reoccurrence.
Listed below are guidelines for Regional Center staff to ensure that:
a) proper steps are taken when suspected sexual abuse is reported;
b) consumers are connected to crucial support services; and
c) needed preventative actions are taken to address any circumstances
or factors that may have contributed to the incident.
- Is the person safe right now? Immediate steps should be taken to protect the consumer from any contact with the alleged perpetrator until the investigation is completed and any needed safeguards are solidly in place. If the alleged perpetrator is a staff member, he or she should be placed on administrative leave or otherwise removed from a position of direct contact with any consumer. When the alleged perpetrator is another consumer, separation of the affected consumers (and others who may also be at risk) should occur immediately. These consumers’ planning teams, including the consumers’ provider(s), should then identify needed actions that will ensure protection from harm. As appropriate, a consumer may need to be relocated. Any other actions to provide immediate safety for consumers should also be taken.
- Has a Special Incident Report been submitted to the Regional Center within the required timeframe? Designated Regional Center staff should carefully review each Special Incident Report to ensure that the information is complete, accurate, and submitted within two (2) working days of the incident. As indicated, the Regional Center may need to provide additional technical assistance and support to service providers. The Regional Center staff may need to develop strategies to ensure that needed information concerning resolution of referrals to other agencies is recorded within the Special Incident Report System database.
- Has Protective Services and/or law enforcement been notified? Suspected sexual abuse must be reported to Protective Services (either the local county Child Protective Services or Adult Protective Services office as appropriate) and/or the local law enforcement agency. When it is likely the incident involves a crime such as rape or attempted rape, local law enforcement should be involved early in the process to collect and preserve evidence and initiate an investigation.
- Have other appropriate reports and notifications been made? As applicable, reports may also need to be filed with the Department of Social Services’ Community Care Licensing Division or the Department of Health Services' Licensing and Certification Division . . As appropriate, the conservator and/or family of the consumer should be notified. The Regional Center must submit reports of suspected sexual abuse to the Department of Developmental Services .
- Has needed medical assessment and treatment been provided? If sexual assault is suspected, the consumer should immediately receive proper medical assessment and treatment. Sexual assault centers or rape crisis centers located in many communities are in the best position to provide this assessment, treatment, and other support services. When these services are not available, the local hospital emergency room should be used. Consideration should be given to having a person close to the consumer accompany him or her to provide comfort and support as well as assistance. Personnel working in such centers and hospitals may have limited experience effectively communicating with people with developmental disabilities. In addition to any medical treatment for injuries, the person may need testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
- Have local victim assistance services or treatment been accessed or otherwise arranged as needed? After a person’s immediate needs are addressed, consideration must be given concerning services and supports that may be needed to address emotional needs. Sometimes referrals are not made for services or treatment because of a belief that the person may not comprehend his or her experiences and therefore does not have emotions or feelings in response to an abuse incident. Regional Center staff should ensure that a person’s emotional needs are properly addressed. Depending upon the services available within a local community, generic services may be accessed. Be aware, that the staff of these local programs may need assistance from service coordinators to make any needed accommodations or adaptations to serve a person with developmental disabilities. Further, specialized treatment or therapy may be indicated such as counseling or therapy sessions by clinicians with special expertise in supporting persons with disabilities who have been victimized. For some consumers, transportation, including staff escort, may be appropriate for the person to feel more secure. For other consumers, additional security features in one’s home may help the person feel safe.
- Have the circumstances or factors that may have contributed to the incident been identified? To prevent future reoccurrence of an incident, it is essential to understand what factors may have contributed to the abuse incident. Once those factors are identified, needed corrective and preventative actions can be planned and implemented. Regional Center staff may need to provide technical assistance to assist with identifying these factors and developing specific and individualized prevention strategies. Further, the existing prevention plans that a service provider has in place should be reviewed, evaluated in light of the incident, and revised accordingly.
- Have needed follow-up actions occurred? Depending upon the individual circumstances, the service provider and Regional Center may need to take various actions in response to an incident (e.g., provide additional training or coordinate exchange of information with law enforcement personnel). Follow-up should occur to ensure that any such planned actions have been taken in a timely and effective manner. In addition, it may be necessary for Regional Center staff to assist the consumer’s involvement with the local District Attorney when prosecution is pursued.
It should be noted that abuse prevention strategies are vital and must be in place to protect consumers. A range of suggested prevention strategies have been addressed in other articles on this website and can be located as follows:
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