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The Carter Center, ASAN, Communication First Among Dozens of Organizations Joining AACs in Support of Forensic Interviewing for Adult Crime Victims with Disabilities

July 5, 2023 / Forensic Interviews

A broad coalition of organizations representing leadership in the fields of disability, global health, victim services, law and policy joins the Adult Advocacy Centers (AACs) in support of specialized forensic interviews as a reasonable accommodation available to crime victims with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as we celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the signing of that landmark legislation. The need for such accessible forensic interview services was outlined in an AACs white paper released in April.

Children's Advocacy Centers have typically used forensic interviews, a trauma-informed narrative-focused technique, to gather information that may be admissible in court from children who have been victimized by crime. The AACs’ white paper states that adult crime victims with disabilities can also benefit from the accommodations, accessibility and trauma-informed practices these interviews can provide. However, disabled adults are adults, not eternal children. Treating adult crime victims with disabilities the same as child crime victims is undignified, unfair and detrimental to the goal of provid­ing equitable justice and equal access to services. They need their own forensic interviewing protocol that can be adjusted to the needs of each person. The AACs have developed such a protocol, incorporating the insight and expertise of our collaborative partners.

The national and local organizations that have come forward to support the continued effort toward equity for crime victims with disabilities include:

The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program; The Arc of Ohio; Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN); Barrier Free Living; The Carter Center; The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy & Innovation; Communication First; Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS); Deaf World Against Violence Everywhere (DWAVE); Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF); Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS); Forensic Nursing Network (FNN); Law Project for Psychiatric Rights; May Dugan Center; National Black Disability Coalition; National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA); Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence (OAESV); Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center (OCVJ); Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council; Ohio Hispanic Coalition; The Ohio Statewide Independent Living Council; Portage County (Ohio) Board of Developmental Disabilities; Protection & Advocacy Project (North Dakota); Tzedek DC; US Together Inc.; and Voices of Change.

Katherine Yoder, Executive Director of the AACs, offers the following statement:

“The AACs appreciate the advocacy, collaboration and support of these distinguished organizations, which represent a diverse spectrum of services and disabilities. Although we celebrate the importance of the ADA as we approach the 33rd anniversary of its signing by President George H.W. Bush, we also know that there is still so much work to be done to make the U.S. a fairer, more accessible, more equitable country for people with disabilities. Crime against the disabled community is at an epidemic level and has been since data was first collected about violent victimization in the 1980s. Currently, people with disabilities are almost four times more likely to be victims of violent crime than people without disabilities – a statistic that has only gotten worse over time. Only 9% of those cases are prosecuted, often because people with disabilities are not seen as credible witnesses in the crimes committed against them. This remains unacceptable.

No longer can disability survivors be overlooked as an important source of information. Every survivor of a crime deserves the basic respect of choosing to be forensically interviewed or not by someone who is properly trained to ensure effective communication. This includes people who have historically been categorized as ‘nonverbal.’

It's a paradigm shift to think of specialized forensic interviewing for crime victims with disabilities not being about helping crime victims with disabilities find their voice. Disabled crime victims have always had a voice. The focus needs to be teaching everyone else how to listen. This is a step in that direction.”