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Verrelli, Murphy, Downey Measure Establishing Task Force to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Developmentally Disabled Clears Assembly

Victims Seven Times More Likely to be Assaulted; 19-Member Group Would Study and Monitor Issue, Provide Education and Resources for Victims and their Families

As individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to be victimized by sexual assault than individuals without such disabilities, a bill to establish a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Violence Against Persons with Developmental Disabilities was approved 76-0-0 Monday by the full Assembly.

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-Hunterdon and Mercer), Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Burlington) and Assemblywoman Joann Downey
(D-Monmouth) calls for the 19-member group to be established within the Division of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Human Services.

“Sexual violence against anyone is wrong and disheartening,” said Verrelli. “But when this heinous act is committed against someone who does not have the mental capacity to understand what is happening, say no or defend themselves, the issue takes on an even uglier tone. It’s despicable, and it’s wrong.”

As outlined in the bill (A-4482), the responsibilities of the task force would include:

·Studying and monitoring the prevalence of sexual violence against the developmentally disabled;

·Creating informational materials and identifying resources for people with developmental disabilities for the purpose of preventing and reporting sexual violence;

·Assisting the parents, guardians and caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities, as well as medical and legal personnel, to better identify, prevent and respond to instances of sexual violence in the developmentally disabled community; and
·Recommending legislative, executive, and community action that can reduce the prevalence and impact of sexual violence against people with developmental disabilities.

“Our communities have been silent on this issue for too long,” said Murphy. “Victims of sexual violence, even those without developmental disabilities, often do not speak out because of fear and shame. Thankfully, the #MeToo Movement has put that issue in the spotlight. Now it’s time to have a similar outcry for sexual violence victims who may not have the mental capacity to speak out. This bill speaks for them.”

“We must act decisively to protect those with developmental disabilities from sexual violence,” said Downey. “Sexual violence against a person with a developmental disability can be committed by anyone, including someone the victim knows, a family member, family friend or even a caregiver. In every instance, it is wrong and must be prevented. It is our responsibility to step up and ensure that the most vulnerable among us are protected from these terrible crimes.”

The task force would publish statistical data on sexual violence against people with developmental disabilities on the Department of Human Services’ website. In addition, the group would recommend guidelines for best practices on awareness and prevention for service providers, attorneys, courts, and police officers investigating or adjudicating cases involving sexual violence against persons with developmental disabilities.

Within 12 months following the task force’s organizational meeting, and at least biennially thereafter, the task force would be required to submit a written report to the governor identifying the task force’s findings, statistical data, public and private efforts, and recommendations for legislative and other actions.

Upon enactment, the measure would take effect immediately.

The bill was introduced in September and cleared the Assembly Human Services Committee on January 24. It now heads to the Senate for further consideration.