The Florida InjuryBoard law firm partner of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A., just took on a case of an autistic young adult who was sexually assaulted while in the care of a group home. The obligation of organizations providing day and residential care for people with disabilities, to keep them safe from sexual assault, is undeniable. Sexual assaults on the disabled are unfortunately, too common.
Believe it or not, civil suits by families of seriously disabled adults, alleging sexual assault, are not always straightforward. One case I investigated provided a graphic example of the problems that allegations of sexual assault on disabled people can present. Two moderately retarded men were found having sex in the men’s room of their sheltered workshop. The family of one of the men – strictly religious people – were convinced that their young adult son must have been the victim of an assault. Extensive interviews revealed that the sex was consensual and that the two men had an ongoing relationship. The notion of sexuality for people with disabilities – we’re not talking about people adjudged mentally incompetent – is difficult for many families to accept. Retardation, autism, and other disabilities, does not render a person non-sexual.
The potential complexities of cases of alleged sexual assault on a person with disabilities, surely doesn’t mean that the right case should not be pursued. To the contrary – we owe vulnerable people protection. Even organizations with the noble mission of providing care to people with developmental disabilities and other disabilities, are held to a reasonable standard of care. Any time that a staff member sexually assaults a disabled client, an aggressively pursued civil action is justified.
I am aware of a group home sexual assault case, in a home for 8 adults with mental retardation, that resulted because a vulnerable, physically fragile resident, was roomed with a strong, intimidating resident – a man with a history of sexual aggression. The vulnerable man was assaulted multiple times by his roommate. Only after a psychologist explored the cause of the victim’s deepening withdrawal, did the assaults come to light. A civil action in that case was pursued against the home’s director and other administrators of the organization that operated the home. The case resulted in a just settlement. It was a case that needed to be brought, and one that resulted in much more careful screening by the organization, of potential roommates . Once again, the civil justice system caused necessary and positive change.