PAR Mail 2018-004 | January 11, 2018
NPR Series on Sexual Abuse Brings Focus to Prevention & Protection System Needs
This week, National Public Radio (NPR) has been airing an extraordinary series on the incidence of sexual abuse committed against individuals with intellectual disability. The report, produced by critically acclaimed reporter, Joseph Shapiro, brings attention to an issue addressed for many years by The Arc of the United States and the National Disability Rights Network.

Providers have long worked to address this issue through increased training opportunities to help people with ID/A recognize warning signs of possible abuse and understanding how to get help. Additionally providers have long worked with state and federal decision makers to promote safety, health and welfare through increased focus on:

  • stabilizing the constant turnover in ID/A Residential, Day and Employment programs; high turnover and vacancy rates exacerbate the potential for quality erosion and potential exposure to abuse or neglect. Experience and staff retention directly relates to increased safety.
  • enhancing background checks, including in state and national background checks
  • on going training for people with ID/A and Direct Support Professionals on how to recognize the signs of abuse and the responsibilities of immediate reporting to proper authorities

Listening to the NPR Report may be painful for people with disabilities, their families, allies, DSPs and friends; but confronting this painful issue requires sustained vigilance at every level including effective training, funding for such efforts; recruitment and retention of quality staff members and constant self examination of our systems needs.

To hear or read the NPR Report, go to or click here.
From the NPR Report:


At a moment of reckoning in the United States about sexual harassment and sexual assault, a yearlong NPR investigation finds that there is little recognition of a group of Americans that is one of the most at risk: people with intellectual disabilities.
  • People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities. That number comes from data run for NPR by the Justice Department from unpublished federal crime data.
  • People with intellectual disabilities are at heightened risk at all moments of their daily lives. The NPR data show they are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know and during daytime hours.
  • Predators target people with intellectual disabilities because they know they are easily manipulated and will have difficulty testifying later. These crimes go mostly unrecognized, unprosecuted and unpunished. And the abuser is free to abuse again.
  • Police and prosecutors are often reluctant to take these cases because they are difficult to win in court.

Often it's another person with a disability — at a group home, or a day program, or work — who commits the assault. Pennsylvania, at NPR's request, compiled data from more than 500 cases of suspected abuse in 2016. Of those, 42 percent of the suspected offenders were themselves people with intellectual disabilities. Staff made up 14 percent of the suspects; relatives were 12 percent; and friends, 11 percent.
" If this were any other population, the world would be up in arms," says Nancy Thaler, a deputy secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services who runs the state's developmental disability programs. "We would be irate and it would be the No. 1 health crisis in this country."

For people in the field, like her, the high rates of assault have been an open secret.

"Folks with intellectual disabilities are the perfect victim," says Thaler, who has been a leader in the field for more than 40 years — in top state, federal and national association jobs. She is also a parent of an adult son with an intellectual disability.

"They are people who often cannot speak or their speech is not well-developed.

They are generally taught from childhood up to be compliant, to obey, to go along with people. Because of the intellectual disability, people tend not to believe them, to think that they are not credible or that what they saying, they are making up or imagining," she explains.

"And so for all these reasons, a perpetrator sees an opportunity, a safe opportunity to victimize people."