Talk About Sexual Violence: James’ Story

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:

James Meadours smiles at the camera in a selfie, wearing a navy blue polo shirt and glasses.

I never thought lightning could strike twice in the same place, but in my life it happened. I was sexually assaulted four times during my life and this is not uncommon for men or women with disabilities. I want to share the last time it happened to me.

I was looking for a Church that welcomed people including those with disabilities. A friend encouraged me to join him for a Church service and when I was there I met a member who was deaf and wanted to teach me sign language.  I thought we were becoming friends. One time we spoke on the phone and he asked if I was gay, I told him I was not. We got together the day before Church at my home and he began to be sexual with me. Even knowing I was not gay, he still approached me. Again, I told him I was not interested and let him know by shaking my head “NO” and backed away. I used sign language to say NO but he signed YES.

The next day when I went to Church I didn’t tell anyone.  I felt ashamed and afraid if I told anyone I could be hurt. I reached out to the pastor and nothing was done and out of frustration I told my friend and he called 211 to make a report on my behalf with my permission. 

I went to the hospital to make sure I was OK. People listened and took the time to help me. The SANE Nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) was gentle and understanding. I wanted to make a formal report to law enforcement and hoped the officer would be kind and help me feel at ease. Later in the week an officer made a home visit and gathered evidence. The kindness the officer showed me is not typical.

I pressed charges and went to court. He went to jail.

My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I approached the local rape crisis center two weeks later they didn’t know how to provide support since they do not usually help many men, especially men with disabilities. It was a new experience for them, but despite them not having training, they tried to be helpful.

No one taught me the steps to recovery. I did remember what the SANE nurse told me – she looked me in the eye and said I needed to take care of myself before helping others who have suffered. After two years of recovery work, I realized when I was at a meeting to discuss sexual assault that I wanted to tell my story. This was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate to support others with disabilities who have suffered with sexual assault. I am now a national advocate and speaker at many conferences sharing my story and recommending changes so others can find healing and if they want they can become part of the MeToo movement.

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month draws to a close, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.

#Handsoff: Why I Advocate to Stop the Shock

By Nicole Jorwic

Nicole and Chris Jorwic

People with disabilities are being tortured by shock devices at the Judge Rotenberg Center. These devices are worn by residents of JRC, an institution in Massachusetts for children and adults with disabilities. Staff members use remote controls to administer a shock to residents for perceived misbehavior.

This is despite the fact that there is a well-established body of evidence proving that there are alternative methods for behavioral supports for people with disabilities and other needs that do not include excessive force, pain, and fear. It continues to be shown that there is NO THERAPEUTIC benefit to these devices. The actions of the JRC remain a civil rights issue. With every day that passes without this rule being finalized by the FDA, the rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues will continue to be violated as they endure abuse and torture. We shouldn’t rest until this barbaric practice is halted and use of these devices are banned at the JRC and nationwide.

This issue is something that matters to me personally. My brother Chris is 29 and has autism. And it is my brother’s voice that I have heard during every tense Capitol Hill meeting, meeting with the FDA and submitting comments on why these tortious devices must be banned. This is a little ironic since my brother doesn’t use his voice to speak.

Chris types to communicate — and one thing that he always highlights when he is out training others on how to interact with people with disabilities, is that every behavior is a form of communication. Chris communicates with his behaviors too, and it terrifies me to know that if he were a resident at the JRC, he could very likely be shocked for trying to express himself or communicate his needs.

The FDA must act. All people with disabilities deserve the right to live free from the fear of torture. Continuing in their posture of inaction is to devalue the lives of people with disabilities. We will not stop fighting until we are able to STOP THE SHOCK. Learn more about how you can help.

 

Talk About Sexual Violence: Kecia

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:

Kecia Weller poses for a photo against a gray mottled background with a blue shirt on.

“Get involved. Help people with disabilities learn about safe relationships and prevention of sexual assault. Special attention must be provided at peer advocacy meetings to teach people how to support survivors when they report the abuse and create their own safety plans. There are many ways people with disabilities can be supportive. A few ideas include volunteering to be a listener on a hot line, educating school teachers about the frequency of abuse against students with disabilities and most important, learning more yourself about the alarming rate of sexual and other kinds of assault happening to men and women with disabilities.”

Read more of Kecia’s story.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.

 

Talk About Sexual Violence: Chris’ Story

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.

Chris Miller

“For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. These ideas are communicated from an early age; the expectations of manhood are very high and never include opening up about any type of abuse, especially sexual assault and violence perpetrated against them, as an adult or child.

We are told and it is believed that rape and assault do not happen to us – but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Men with disabilities face an even more difficult hurdle of not being believed or seen as credible when they do report because they have a disability, and can be even more difficult for those who are LGBTQ, who are at greater risk for sexual assault due to their sexual orientation. Some people with disabilities communicate in non-traditional ways, meaning not verbally or use a communication device, so they are often looked at as not reliable witnesses or just simply not believed. Another reason people do not speak up is simply a lack of having someone they trust. Many live segregated lives and reporting an assault can be threatening and result in loss of home, caregiver or job. Those in authority have looked the other way when we have disclosed. When disclosure happens we are not asked how we feel. For those that are not able to tell, they act out their fear and frustration and then are medicated and the abuse continues. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences even if we do tell. This is a deep-reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.” 

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.

 

Celebrating National Volunteer Week with Inclusion

Happy National Volunteer Week and Month!

Every day at chapters around the country, volunteers with and without disabilities work together to serve each other and the communities. This month, we honor all volunteers who selflessly give their time to make a difference — and especially the over 2,600 volunteers who have generously given their time to feed people in need through our MLK Day of Service Project.

Here are just a few of these incredible volunteers:

Two volunteers, a woman and a man, smile. The Arc of Lane County, Oregon

The students of Two Rivers – Dos Rios Elementary School enthusiastically serve others in need, even though many of them face food insecurity themselves on any given day. These young students worked with volunteers with disabilities to make 500 meals for others in their community who suffer from hunger. They continue to ask if they can do more and help more people in the community. Thank you for your empathy and enthusiasm, students!

 

The Arc Nature Coast

The Arc Nature Coast, Florida

For the past three years, The Arc Nature Coast has worked with the Fox Chapel Middle School BETA Club to volunteer in in their community. One of the most passionate volunteers has been teacher Gina, who oversees the BETA club. Gina has encouraged 150 of her students to participate in this project, as well as volunteer events throughout the year. Students have gone on to volunteer at job fairs, dances, and have even considered the disability field for their career. Thank you, Gina, for giving your students new opportunities and welcoming them to the disability community!

 

The Arc Rockland, New York

Both The Arc and TOUCH, an organization that serves people with chronic illness, are recognizing Thelma for her service as part of the MLK Day of Service project. According to TOUCH Food Recovery Coordinator, Magda, “Thelma [is] a stand out volunteer. She’s responsible, takes her time and works independently, and always willing to help. She’s always smiling and brings a positive energy to her work. We appreciate her efforts and dedication. Thank you, Thelma!”

 

 

 

TARC OklahomaTARC, Oklahoma

Danielle, the Director of True Blue Neighbors at the University of Tulsa, has been instrumental in the success of TARC’s MLK Day Service grants. Over the past four years, Danielle and True Blue Neighbors have helped TARC recruit volunteers without disabilities to take part in service projects. Danielle also volunteers herself at most of TARC’s service projects. Danielle has taken the next step in serving and has now joined TARC on their board of directors. Thank you, Danielle, for making TARC’s volunteer work successful and for becoming more engaged in the I/DD field!

 

The Arc of Midland, Michigan

During The Arc Midland’s inaugural event, Both Sarah and Jackie gave their time to make sure that the food going to over 900 people in need in the community was properly bagged and boxed up. By working together, they made sure the food got safely to families in need and showcased the value of volunteering in their community. Thank you, Sarah and Jackie, for your time and effort!

 

 

 

 

Interested in becoming a volunteer or giving back? Contact your local chapter of The Arc or contact Abby Owusu to learn more!

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Shining the Light on a Silent Epidemic

Chris Miller, James Meadours, and Kecia Weller

Every day, in every community across the U.S., people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are being sexually assaulted. Too many have a story to tell, and yet few are ever heard. The Talk About Sexual Violence project aims to change that by educating health care providers about sexual violence in the lives of people with I/DD. Here are just three snapshots of this epidemic, shared directly by those affected by it:

Chris Miller

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. People don’t believe that rape and assault happens to us, but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences if we tell someone about what happened to us. This is a deep reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.

 

James Meadours

I never thought lightning could strike twice in the same place, but in my life it happened. I was sexually assaulted four times during my life and this is not uncommon for men or women with disabilities. My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I talked to the local rape crisis center two weeks after the rape, they didn’t know how to provide support since they do not usually help many men, especially men with disabilities. It was a new experience for them, but even though they didn’t have any training, they tried to be helpful. No one taught me the steps to recovery. I did remember what the SANE nurse told me – she looked me in the eye and said I needed to take care of myself before helping others who have suffered. After two years of recovery work, I realized when I was at a meeting to discuss sexual assault that I wanted to tell my story. This was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate to support others with disabilities who have suffered with sexual assault. I am now a national advocate and speaker at many conferences sharing my story and recommending changes so others can find healing and if they want they can become part of the MeToo movement.

 

Kecia Weller

Kecia Weller poses for a photo against a gray mottled background with a blue shirt on.Get involved. Help people with disabilities learn about safe relationships and prevention of sexual assault. Special attention must be provided at peer advocacy meetings to teach people how to support survivors when they report the abuse and create their own safety plans. There are many ways people with disabilities can be supportive. A few ideas include volunteering to be a listener on a hot line, educating school teachers about the frequency of abuse against students with disabilities and most important, learning more yourself about the alarming rate of sexual and other kinds of assault happening to men and women with disabilities.

 

Learn more about educating health care providers about this silent epidemic and supporting people with I/DD to tell their truth. Men with disabilities and other marginalized individuals are especially alone and need outreach now more than ever. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence!

Executive Spotlight: Jill Pidcock, The Arc of the Central Mountains

Jill Pidcock poses for a headshot in a blue collared shirt, with a mottled black background.The Arc of the Central Mountains recently opened their doors to support people through advocacy, outreach, and policy in a rural area of the Colorado mountains. They immediately found themselves in court supporting some of the individuals in their community. One of these cases evolved into providing supports for a young adult who was facing multiple felony charges for stalking and who was in the middle of reapplying for DACA status. The work of The Arc of the Central Mountains has resulted in the creation of a truly community-based support system for this young man, while at the same time building a relationship with a local judicial system, resulting in his four cases being dismissed. In this interview, The Arc of the Central Mountains’s Executive Director Jill Pidcock talks about the about the work the organization is doing and how they are making a positive impact in their community.

How do you connect with the people in this population who need help? Are there any unique challenges to working with this population? If so, what are those challenges and how do you approach them?

Working in a rural area is a major asset in some ways because everyone knows someone who’s willing to contribute. Most often, the people we support come to us through referrals from other families, school districts, and other agencies, like service providers and case management organizations. Our area has a high number of lower income families, Spanish-speaking families, and some undocumented families. Specific to our undocumented families, the children are able to access academics and are supported through IDEA until 21 years old. But at 21, they are unable to access any services or supports through state or federally funded programs.

How did you establish your relationships with your community partners? Did they previously work with the disability community in this context, or have you engaged in educational efforts with them as well?

We first reached out to the extremely supportive public defender and immigration attorney working on our young man’s DACA status. We quickly found ourselves in a courtroom with a compassionate judge and an assistant district attorney who had clearly never had any people-first language training. I took him to lunch and took the time to learn about him and to share the mission of The Arc of the Central Mountains as well as our intentions of finding solutions in our community. By the end of the lunch, he was asking me if we could do outreach and education for the district attorney’s office (perhaps he didn’t want to be left out because the public defender’s office had already requested the same thing).

We also needed to figure out where our young adults could go for assistance and how to get that assistance paid for. One local disability organization has created a Provider Collaborative, which we work with on a regular basis. The collaborative comes together to determine what gaps are preventing a person from living a self-determined, robust, inclusive, community-based life. All of these individuals came up with strategies for supporting this young man.

To pay for these services, we are working with a community foundation providing grants to mental health providers, DVR is funding the job coach (once the DACA status was back in place), Catholic Charities is contributing, and so is a local autism crisis fund. All of these creative funding sources, along with MANY volunteer hours, have come together to create a truly community-based support system.

Your chapter joined The Arc just over a year ago. Have you found the chapter network useful in your work? How have you utilized it to inform and strengthen your efforts?

In our short life span, we have utilized the chapter network countless times. I use my “life line” with the other Colorado chapters whenever we are faced with something needing extra insights. Additionally, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to develop good foundational relationships with The Arc’s national office in its many areas of expertise, from new chapter relations to rights policy. We are equally as delighted to be a part of NCE, as it has proven to be invaluable from a leadership development aspect as well as continual resource and idea sharing through the listserv.

People with disabilities constitute our nation’s largest minority group, which is simultaneously the most inclusive and the most diverse. How can chapters broaden their outreach to be more inclusive of the various identities that make up the community they serve?

We find that getting out into our communities is very important. We create relationships with parent groups, both in person and on social media platforms. We also build relationships with language inclusive organizations, school districts, local banks and foundations, case management and service providers, and human service departments. Building those foundations is where we find our best success in problem solving and collaboration. We are a small office and cannot do it all—we rely on our connections in the community to be successful. Please feel free to reach out directly to explore ideas at Jill@Arccentralmountains.org.

What do you envision for the future of this initiative and the systems being put in place to support it?

We are slated to continue outreach to several of our local police departments as well as continued education to other county district attorneys and public defender’s offices. We are encouraged by the truly collaborative community-based support outcomes that have resulted from our outreach efforts – especially supporting those who may have eligibility challenges accessing services and supports due to ability levels, language, and citizenship.

The Arc Joins Appellate Court Amicus Brief Outlining Critical Importance of ACA for People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – The Arc has joined an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case Texas v. United States.  The brief supports the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and asks the Fifth Circuit to reverse a lower court ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas finding the law unconstitutional.

The brief outlines how the ACA has been essential to overcoming the disproportionate impact that America’s health care crisis has had on people with disabilities, and how it is uniquely difficult for people with disabilities to obtain affordable and adequate health insurance coverage despite depending on health care services more than those without disabilities.

“This phenomenon has resulted in the unjust reality that the individuals who need health care the most have the most challenging time obtaining it. Removing the ACA’s protections would reverse the gains that people with disabilities have realized since the ACA became law and return those with disabilities to a cruel reality in which affordable insurance lacks the breadth and depth of coverage for vital services and is difficult to obtain,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

Specifically, the brief explains how the ACA has expanded access to health insurance for people with disabilities by creating state-based marketplaces for private health insurance; expanding the scope and affordability of coverage by requiring health plans to offer certain essential benefits; prohibiting discrimination against individuals based on health status and exclusions on the basis of pre-existing conditions; and expanding eligibility for and the types of services covered by Medicaid. The brief argues that “declaring the ACA unconstitutional in its entirety will uniquely and extensively harm [the disability] community.”

“The ACA, which makes robust, affordable health care coverage possible for people with disabilities, is at risk in this lawsuit. We can’t go back to a time when people with disabilities and their families lived in fear of losing the coverage they had or went without access to the health care services that made life in the community possible. We remain committed to fighting for these rights for people with disabilities,” said Berns.

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 600 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.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.