PHOENIX — The sex assault of an incapacitated patient at a Valley healthcare facility has prompted the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to issue recommendations on how to better protect people with disabilities.
The report, released Tuesday, "includes actions state agencies, providers, and families can take to prevent and reduce sexual abuse of vulnerable adults in Arizona," according to a release from ADDPC.
The high rate of sexual violence committed against the disabled is not an issue that's garnered widespread attention until recently, when a 29-year-old woman was raped and became pregnant at Hacienda HealthCare. A licensed practical nurse at the facility, 36-year-old Nathan Sutherland, has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse in the case.
"We're often seen as unrapeable and nothing can be further from the truth," said Rep. Jennifer Longdon, a longtime disability rights advocate who herself is in a wheelchair. "Now people are looking at it and that's important. We need to take advantage of this moment to get this important work done."
Recommendations in the ADDPC report include: strengthening "duty to report" laws and training requirements, removing exemptions from state licensing for facilities serving people with intellectual disabilities, fuding sexual violence prevention and trauma-informed care, and creating laws requireing Adult Protective Services to investigate every suspected case of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
“The Hacienda case has exposed the hidden nature of sexual abuse to the broader community,” said John Black, chairman of ADDPC. “We are committed to search for solutions over the long-haul.”
Jon Meyer, executive director of The Arc of Arizona, also served as part of a task force established under ADDPC to make recommendations for the report. Meyers says he believes the workers at Hacienda HealthCare were afraid to speak up.
"There was an environment there that was not conducive to truth telling. As a result, people were hesitant to come forward. They didn't report what they knew they didn't report what they saw we have to dispel that we have to get rid of that in Arizona we have to protect these people who come forward."