Sexual assault against people with disabilities is a critical and neglected issue. Although empirical evidence is extremely limited, several studies based on population or convenience samples of sexual assault against people with disabilities cite lifetime rates that range from 11% to 53% (Mitra et al., 2011; Powers et al., 2002; Young et al., 1997). Few studies have examined criminal justice responses to and help-seeking patterns of sexual assault survivors with disabilities, based on diverse samples (e.g., gender, age, race/ethnicity, disability type) using rigorous research methods and accommodations designed for this population. To address this gap, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) will conduct a mixed methods study in partnership with the Suffolk County District Attorneys office (SCDA) and the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL, a community- based, non-residential program providing services to people with disabilities) in Massachusetts.
The primary goal of the study is to examine criminal justice outcomes and help-seeking experiences of sexual assault survivors with disabilities. This goal includes the following objectives: (1) To describe the criminal justice reporting of sexual assault victimization among persons with disabilities (e.g., number of reports over time, characteristics of survivors, type and frequency of victimizations), using SCDA administrative data over a ten-year period. (2) To assess how cases of sexual assault survivors with disabilities proceed through the criminal court system, including consideration of factors influencing case outcomes at each decision point, using SCDA administrative data, supplemental case file reviews, prosecutor interviews, and court observations. (3) To describe the help-seeking experiences of sexual assault survivors with disabilities in the community from both formal and informal sources. This will include factors that influence how survivors seek help, survivors experiences in reporting victimization to formal and informal help sources, and outcomes of this reporting. This will be accomplished by conducting qualitative interviews with a separate sample of survivors recruited with help from the BCIL.
Using quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques and multiple data sources, this study is expected to significantly advance existing knowledge and address critical gaps in our understanding of justice system responses to victims with disabilities. Results of this study should promote empirically informed discourse and best practice choices across multiple policy and practice areas. ca/ncf