Preventing Sexual Assault Against NY’ers with Developmental Disabilities

Edwin J. Viera

Advocates for New Yorkers with disabilities are voicing concerns about cases of sexual assault against people with developmental disabilities.

Federal figures show sexual assault cases against this population rose 27% between 2017 and 2019 – and fewer people with disabilities report these incidents.

Sharon McLennon-Wier, Ph.D. – executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York (CIDNY) – noted that the crime might not be reported because the person is unaware of what happened, or could be non-verbal.

She said she thinks developmentally disabled people need health and sex education, as much as any other group of young people.

“There still should be some level of health education,” said McLennon-Wier, “so that those students can get the same kind of information about appropriate touching, and understanding their bodies – making sure that they have good hygiene, understand how to go to the doctor for problems.”

A variety of sex education programs are designed around a person’s intellectual ability level.

McLennon-Wier said she would also like to see police officers better trained to help those with developmental disabilities feel more comfortable reporting an assault.

CIDNY believes there should be a legislative component to this issue, as well. States like Connecticut have laws helping protect people with disabilities from perpetrators.

McLennon-Wier described what she’d like to see from New York.

“If there is a sexual assault to this population that does get to the level of the police and investigation,” said McLennon-Wier, “as a public, we should need to know about that, because this is someone’s daughter or someone’s son that is being victimized.”

Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act, which allows people to file lawsuits against their abusers for sexual assaults which occurred when they were over 18. The one-year window is set to expire this November.

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