Sexual Abuse of Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Adults with developmental disabilities often encounter distinctive challenges that can profoundly impact their ability to identify, report, or protect themselves from abuse. Acknowledging and understanding these challenges is crucial to provide effective support and protection.

As a survivor of sexual abuse or the family member of someone who has been abused, your courage in seeking out this information is a powerful step in a journey towards healing and empowerment. At Cerri, Boskovich & Allard, we understand that confronting such experiences requires immense strength and bravery. Our sexual abuse attorneys are here for you throughout this process to offer you legal guidance and support at every step.

Understanding Sexual Abuse of Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Sexual abuse is a form of abuse involving non-consensual sexual contact or behavior directed at another individual. It can range from unwanted touching and sexual assault to other actions of a sexual nature without the consent of the victim.

This type of abuse can occur in various settings and involve individuals of any age or gender. It's characterized by a misuse of power and trust and can have significant and lasting psychological, emotional, and physical effects on the survivor.

Consent is the defining factor that distinguishes between consensual sexual activity and acts of sexual abuse or assault. It is a clear and voluntary agreement between adults to engage in any form of sexual activity. Without such consent, any sexual act can be classified as abuse or assault, regardless of the relationship or context.

For adults with developmental disabilities, understanding and expressing consent can be uniquely challenging. Consent requires comprehending the nature of the act, its implications, and the choice to agree to it freely, without coercion or manipulation. In the context of developmental disabilities, factors such as limited understanding of sexual boundaries, difficulty in communication, and a higher reliance on caregivers can complicate the issue of consent.

It is crucial to recognize that any sexual activity without informed and clear consent is abuse. This abuse can take many forms, including unwanted touching, sexual assault, exploitation, and exposure to inappropriate sexual material or behavior.

Common Misconceptions

Misconceptions surrounding sexual abuse of adults with developmental disabilities include the belief that these individuals are not interested in or capable of sexual feelings, which can lead to their experiences being dismissed or overlooked.

Another misconception is that individuals with developmental disabilities cannot be reliable witnesses to their abuse due to communication difficulties or cognitive impairments. There is also a false notion that only strangers perpetrate sexual abuse. In fact, it is often someone known and trusted by the victim, including caregivers and family members. These misconceptions can hinder the recognition and reporting of abuse, leaving survivors without the support and justice they deserve.

Why Choose Our California Sexual Abuse Lawyers?

The law firm of Cerri, Boskovich & Allard is known for taking on challenging cases involving vulnerable populations. This is a testament to their commitment and expertise. Dealing with such sensitive situations requires not only legal proficiency but also a profound understanding of the trauma and challenges faced by survivors. Our dedication to these cases reflects our unwavering commitment to seeking justice and providing compassionate support for survivors, including adults with developmental disabilities.

Here are some of our most notable cases, awards, and settlements:

  • Audrie’s Law. Cerri, Boskovich & Allard played a pivotal role in the passage of Audrie’s Law, a significant legal reform led by Senator Jim Beall. This law addresses a critical need in the legal system by recognizing the sexual violation of an unconscious or developmentally disabled individual as forcible rape. This change closed a vital loophole, strengthening legal protection for survivors and reflecting CBA's dedication to advocating for meaningful legislative changes that support survivors' rights.
  • Record-Setting Settlement - Mission College Case. In a landmark case involving Mission College, Cerri, Boskovich & Allard secured a $7.4 million settlement, one of the largest of its kind. This outcome was significantly influenced by our deep understanding and acknowledgment of the severity of sexual abuse against individuals unable to consent or defend themselves. This case not only our firm's legal acumen but also its empathetic approach to recognizing and addressing the profound impact on survivors.
How Common is Sexual Abuse Among Adults with Developmental Disabilities?

Sadly, there is an alarmingly high rate of sexual assault experienced by individuals with disabilities, significantly surpassing those without disabilities. In fact, people with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be sexually assaulted compared to those without disabilities. One survey revealed that 60% of people with disabilities have faced some form of unwanted sexual activity, with almost half of these incidents going unreported.

There's a notable disparity in sexual abuse rates between deaf and hearing individuals: 50% of deaf girls and 54% of deaf boys have been sexually abused, compared to 25% of hearing girls and 10% of hearing boys.

A staggering 80% of women and 30% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted, with half of these women experiencing assault more than ten times.

Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse is especially critical for caregivers and loved ones of adults with developmental disabilities. This awareness is pivotal because these individuals may face unique barriers in communicating or understanding what constitutes abuse.

In many cases, the subtle changes in behavior, physical symptoms, or emotional distress might be the only indicators of something gravely wrong. Caregivers and loved ones are often in the best position to notice these changes, given their close and consistent interaction with the individual.

Early recognition not only facilitates timely intervention and support but also plays a vital role in preventing further harm. Caregivers need to be vigilant, empathetic, and educated about these signs, as their response can significantly impact the well-being and recovery of the survivor. In essence, this awareness and prompt action can be a lifeline for adults with developmental disabilities, offering them a voice when they might struggle to express their experiences themselves.

Physical Signs
  • Unexplained bruises, scratches, or injuries, particularly around the genital or anal areas.
  • Pain, itching, or bleeding in the genital or anal areas.
  • Sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Unexplained or recurrent urinary tract infections or sexually transmitted infections.
Behavioral Signs
  • Sudden changes in behavior or mood, such as increased aggression, fear, or withdrawal.
  • Regressive behaviors, like bedwetting or thumb-sucking.
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior or knowledge that is inconsistent with the individual's developmental level.
  • Avoidance of certain people or places without an obvious reason.
Psychological Signs
  • Increased anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
  • Signs of trauma, such as flashbacks, nightmares, or severe anxiety in specific situations.
  • Sudden reluctance to be alone with certain individuals.
  • Fear or apprehension when touched or when physical intimacy is mentioned.
Communication Signs
  • Non-verbal cues in individuals with communication difficulties, like sudden changes in body language or facial expressions.
  • Attempts to communicate discomfort or fear through gestures or behaviors.
  • Difficulty in expressing what happened due to limited vocabulary or cognitive abilities.
Challenges Adults with Developmental Disabilities Face After Sexual Abuse

Adults with developmental disabilities may experience difficulties in recognizing what constitutes abuse. This lack of awareness is often due to limited education on topics like personal boundaries, consent, and sexual health. As a result, they might not understand that certain behaviors from others are inappropriate or harmful, making them more vulnerable to abuse.

Secondly, the ability to report abuse is another significant hurdle. Whether verbal or cognitive, communication barriers can prevent these individuals from effectively articulating their experiences. Fear of not being believed or understood, coupled with a potential lack of accessible reporting channels, can further discourage them from coming forward.

Lastly, defending against abuse poses its own set of challenges. Adults with developmental disabilities might depend on others for care and support, sometimes even on their abusers, leading to a complex power dynamic. This dependency can make it difficult for them to resist or escape abusive situations. Additionally, societal stereotypes and misconceptions about the sexuality of people with disabilities can lead to their concerns being overlooked or not taken seriously.

Understanding these unique challenges is the first step toward creating a supportive environment and getting them the help they need.

What to Do If You Suspect Sexual Abuse?

If a caregiver or loved one suspects sexual abuse of an adult with developmental disabilities in California, there are several important steps they should take.

The immediate priority is to ensure the safety of the individual. Contact local law enforcement or emergency services if they are in immediate danger. If the individual can communicate about the abuse, listen without judgment. Provide emotional support and reassure them that they are not at fault.

Arrange for medical care as soon as possible. Medical professionals can treat injuries, provide necessary care, and collect evidence if the individual consents. If it's safe and appropriate, document any physical signs of abuse, such as injuries or changes in behavior. This documentation can be helpful for investigations and legal proceedings.

Call an experienced California sexual abuse lawyer at Cerri, Boskovich & Allard, immediately to help protect your loved one’s rights. Your attorney can help you explore your legal options and make the appropriate choice for you and your family. You may be able to file a sexual abuse civil lawsuit to hold your loved one’s abuser accountable for the harm they suffered.

How to Report Sexual Abuse of an Adult with a Developmental Disability

Reporting sexual abuse is a critical step in protecting the victim and preventing further abuse. If you don’t know what to do next, call our law firm immediately, and we’ll walk you through the process of reporting it and getting your loved one the help they need.

In California, here are some key places and agencies to contact for reporting sexual abuse, especially concerning adults with developmental disabilities:

Local Law Enforcement:

  • Emergency: Dial 911 for immediate assistance in urgent situations.
  • Non-Emergency: Contact the local police department's non-emergency number for situations that do not require immediate intervention.

Adult Protective Services (APS):

California Department of Developmental Services:

  • They offer resources and support for individuals with developmental disabilities. They can be reached through their website or local regional centers.

National Resources:

  • Sexual Assault Hotline: They provide confidential support and can guide you on steps to take and resources available in California. 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673).
  • Victim Connect Resource Center: Provides information and referral services for victims of crime, including sexual abuse. 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846).

Remember, when reporting abuse, it's important to provide as much information as possible while respecting the privacy and wishes of the individual with developmental disabilities.

How to File a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Starting a sexual abuse lawsuit for an individual with a developmental disability in California requires careful consideration and several crucial steps, particularly for loved ones and caregivers. If the survivor is legally competent, they can initiate the lawsuit themselves. However, if they cannot manage their affairs, a legal guardian, conservator, or, in some cases, a family member can file on their behalf.

The first step in this process is to seek legal assistance from an attorney experienced in sexual abuse cases, particularly those involving individuals with developmental disabilities. The attorneys at Cerri, Boskovich & Allard, are experienced in handling the sensitive nature of sexual abuse cases for adults with developmental disabilities. We work diligently to ensure our clients and families receive compassionate and effective representation. Our firm understands the importance of confidentiality and treats each case with the utmost discretion and respect. Our California sexual abuse lawyers help survivors through the process of filing lawsuits, collecting evidence, and seeking appropriate compensation while providing emotional support and legal counsel throughout the journey.

Proving Sexual Abuse of an Adult with a Developmental Disability

Proving sexual abuse in adults with developmental disabilities is a process that requires the experience of a skilled lawyer, complemented by the active support of the survivor's family.

Our sexual abuse lawyers will work tirelessly to gather and present evidence, which includes medical documentation, therapeutic records, and witness testimonies. We will address the legal issues that often arise during these cases, particularly in interpreting consent and addressing the potential challenges in the survivor's testimony due to their disability.

Families play a vital role in this process. They can assist by providing emotional support to the survivor, helping to gather evidence, and identifying potential witnesses. Their insights into the survivor's behavior changes and personal circumstances can be invaluable. Families can also facilitate connections with medical professionals and therapists, whose records and testimonies are essential in building a strong case.

Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse in California

California has a strict deadline for when survivors of sexual abuse can file a lawsuit. For adults with developmental disabilities, this can vary depending on when the abuse occurred and was discovered. The complexities of these deadlines and the exceptions that may exist for families of adults with developmental disabilities make it difficult to determine when the deadline may be for your specific case.

Since the laws are ever-changing, contact an attorney at our law firm immediately to discuss your case. We will review your case and the statute of limitations to determine if you can file a sexual abuse lawsuit. When you hire our sexual abuse law firm to represent you, we will make sure you do not miss any critical deadlines for seeking compensation and pursuing justice.

Contact Our California Sexual Abuse Attorneys Today

For legal support or questions, please contact Cerri, Boskovich & Allard Our California sexual abuse legal team is here to provide compassionate and respectful legal counsel. We will ensure that your loved one’s rights and dignity are upheld and that they get the help they need to move forward after sexual abuse.

Our firm is dedicated to assisting survivors of sexual abuse and child molestation in obtaining essential compensation and achieving justice. We represent survivors and their families across San Jose, Santa Clara County, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Northern California region. Our commitment is to ensure that those affected by such profound injustices receive the support and legal advocacy they need during their recovery journey.

Client Reviews

“Working with CBA has been a truly remarkable experience. They exude genuineness, openness, and transparency, transforming a challenging situation into a positive one. Lauren, in particular, consistently displayed empathy, ensuring a comfortable and safe environment throughout.”

Jane Doe v. San Francisco Unified School District

Jane Doe

“Every step of the way, Lauren gave me hope when I felt hopeless, and she gave me help when I felt helpless. Lauren was the attorney who I knew was in my corner, and she will undoubtedly continue to be in the corner of survivors to hold their abuser and institution accountable.”

Jane Doe 2 v. East Side Union High School District

Jane Doe 2

“What happened to me needed to be addressed. I missed out on such an important part of my life, while my institution made no qualms. You don’t get to push kids under a rug. I’m glad I was given an opportunity to address my broken life.”

Jane Doe v. Saratoga–Los Gatos Union High School District

Jane Doe
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