Reports of sexual abuse of individuals with disabilities in New York State funded and licensed facilities will now be investigated by a newly created response team.
The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs says the establishment of the specially trained team comes at a critical time.
An NPR report this year cited data from the Department of Justice showing those with disabilities are seven times more likely to be the victims of sexual abuse than the general population.
The new team will undergo intensive training to handle these complex cases.
"These cases are challenging under any other setting; imagine if we are now adding the component of a disability,” said Justice Center executive director Denise Miranda. “Getting out to the scene, being able to interview people and collect evidence is always a priority because we recognize that these cases are inherently more difficult than some of the other cases that we see."
The investigators are one part of a multi-faceted approach to protecting vulnerable people from sexual predators.
"That will also include making sure that we're providing the appropriate services to families who are involved in these investigations,” Miranda said, “as well as significant outreach so that workers can understand the nuances of sexual abuse, make sure that they're able to recognize warning signs like boundary creep and grooming behavior. We believe that will help stop abuse, as well."
The center has the authority under state law to prosecute crimes committed by staff members against vulnerable people who receive state services and support. In the past five years, the center has investigated 2,455 cases that involved an allegation of sexual abuse. At least one allegation of abuse was substantiated in 253 of the cases, according to a spokesperson.
A statewide hotline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 855-373-2122. The Justice Center also has guidelines on its website for how to report suspected abuse.