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Research Needs: Statement by the Workshop Chair

Joan Petersilia

This workshop represented an opportunity to highlight gaps in the knowledge about criminal victimization of people with developmental disabilities. I will try to summarize the gaps that were raised in the papers presented at the workshop and in the ensuing discussions. As this report makes dear, very little research has been done to date, so that the current state of knowledge on the victimization of individuals with disabilities is seriously inadequate. The areas covered in the workshop papers and discussion could be condensed into three major areas that require research: (1) determining the nature and scope of victimization of those with developmental disabilities; (2) addressing the needs of crime victims with developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system; and (3) developing and evaluating interventions to prevent the victimization of people with developmental disabilities and programs to assist those who are victimized to cope with the effects of victimization.

Research designed to answer the following questions would begin to fill the gaps in the knowledge about crime victims with developmental disabilities:

  • What is the nature and extent of the problem? What personal, behavioral, and developmental characteristics identify victims and perpetrators? What are the situational contexts? What are the impacts (e.g., physical, psychological) on victims with developmental disabilities or mental retardation?



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Page 63 7 Research Needs: Statement by the Workshop Chair Joan Petersilia This workshop represented an opportunity to highlight gaps in the knowledge about criminal victimization of people with developmental disabilities. I will try to summarize the gaps that were raised in the papers presented at the workshop and in the ensuing discussions. As this report makes dear, very little research has been done to date, so that the current state of knowledge on the victimization of individuals with disabilities is seriously inadequate. The areas covered in the workshop papers and discussion could be condensed into three major areas that require research: (1) determining the nature and scope of victimization of those with developmental disabilities; (2) addressing the needs of crime victims with developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system; and (3) developing and evaluating interventions to prevent the victimization of people with developmental disabilities and programs to assist those who are victimized to cope with the effects of victimization. Research designed to answer the following questions would begin to fill the gaps in the knowledge about crime victims with developmental disabilities: What is the nature and extent of the problem? What personal, behavioral, and developmental characteristics identify victims and perpetrators? What are the situational contexts? What are the impacts (e.g., physical, psychological) on victims with developmental disabilities or mental retardation?

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Page 64 How does the formal criminal justice system respond to victims with developmental disabilities? What barriers to access and eligibility exist, and how can they be eliminated and system coordination be improved? What lifestyle variables act as risk factors for personal and financial victimization? Potential risk factors that have been suggested include level and type of employment, transportation, living companions, type and size of residential living, and social activities. How might one "predict" which persons with disabilities, in which settings, are at highest risk of victimization? This research would have very practical aims: to assist those who provide services to people with disabilities to identify those persons and settings at highest risk, so that prevention and personal safety programs can be better targeted, and again, to understand the barriers in the current formal response system that prevents more effective interagency collaboration in effectively responding to victims with disabilities. What programs reduce the incidence of abuse and violence, and how might they best be implemented, evaluated, and funded? Answering these questions would require a series of incremental research projects aimed at developing the required knowledge base. This endeavor would involve research devoted to survey methodology, research on the interaction of victims with developmental disabilities and the criminal justice system, research on treating victims with developmental disabilities, and research on preventing their victimization. I elaborate the needs in each of these areas. SURVEY METHODOLOGY First, research on survey methodology is important to answering the questions about the extent and nature of victimization of people with developmental disabilities. As McCleary and Wiebe pointed out in their paper, the following areas require attention: Developing a sample frame. No sample frame currently used by state or federal agencies adequately covers persons with developmental disabilities. Research could investigate the use of government master lists (SSI, Medicare/Medicaid) as potential sample frames. Until an adequate

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Page 65 sample frame can be developed, determining rates of criminal victimization of persons with disabilities will remain problematic. Specifying appropriate victimization items. Standard victimization items were written for populations of individuals with no disabilities and relate to existing crime categories (for example, UCR Part I crimes). To adequately tap the victimization of persons with developmental disabilities, survey items may need to be revised to represent victimization scenarios typical of victims with disabilities. Crimes against people with disabilities are often complex, for example, involving characteristics of several categories (robbery-assault, for instance), and the minor details of these crimes are often less important (and less obvious to the victim) than the major aspects. Although specifically designed victimization items may be required, items must be roughly comparable to categories of the National Crime Victimization Survey if comparisons to the U.S. population are to be made. For example, research could test various victimization items with people with developmental disabilities and compare the results to those using standard NCVS items. Interview methods. Standard interview methods may not be appropriate for victims with developmental disabilities. Research on interview methods has been conducted in the domains of health (for example the Epidemiological Catchment Area Study and the National Comorbidity study) and education. Research could test ways of improving proxy respondent interviews and examine alternate methods, such as use of free drawing by the victims with developmental disabilities, and other methods that have been demonstrated to overcome communication barriers. Interviewer training. A relatively large core of trained interviewers is needed for an effective victimization survey. Developing training will require substantial research. Historically, interviewer training has been an afterthought in victimization surveys, though again, it has been well studied in the health domain. The problems of the research project outlined can be solved only if the problems of training interviewers are integrated into the larger research questions. INTERACTION WITH THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM The second research area seeks to answer the questions about how the criminal justice system currently deals with victims with disabilities and how those dealings can improve. The following research suggestions come from the papers by Davis, Dinerstein, and Grattet and Jenness, respectively:

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Page 66 Accommodations in law enforcement. Few research studies have been conducted to confirm which benefits, services, and programs are most effective for those with certain types of disabilities. For example, what community policing ideas work? Are there problem-solving techniques that allow for the introduction of, or use of, accommodations for people with developmental disabilities? What approaches are being tried by police and disability experts to assist victims, and how successful are they? Another question involves whether police have or can develop the resources to request an advocate who is familiar with the disability when questioning the victim, and whether such an approach improves interview outcomes. Alternatively, would it be more efficient to have specially trained officers who are familiar with developmental disabilities on the police force to assist in such situations? What would be the impact of creating a specialized program that consists of specially trained police, victim assistance staff, attorneys, probation/parole officers, and judges who all have specific training in developmental disabilities? Each of these approaches may be successful, but we cannot know that or determine which approach is best without evaluation research. Accommodations in victim assistance agencies. Resources that are available to the public as victims of crime may be less available to those with developmental disabilities. The following victim assistance services could be considered when attempting to serve victims with disabilities: counseling, transportation to court, escorts to court, hearing enhancement devices in court, follow-along services to enable victims to understand court scheduling and proceedings, help with arranging medical treatment following victimization, alternative dispute resolution services, and access to individuals in environments such as nursing homes to monitor possible victimization. Researchers can begin to document where and how these types of accommodations are being provided among those with developmental disabilities and how effective they are in assisting those with developmental disabilities: for example, do they result in increased reporting and court appearances? Accommodations in the courtroom. Research is needed on the ability of people with developmental disabilities to provide testimony in a court of law. What specific accommodations are both legally permissible and most useful in assisting victims with disabilities to be effective witnesses? The use of hate crime legislation. A number of states have added disability of the victim as a condition that qualifies certain crimes for hate

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Page 67 crime status. Research could evaluate the viability of the prosecution of violence against persons with disabilities as a hate crime, and whether special sentencing provisions permitted under most hate crime legislation serve as a deterrent. PREVENTION AND TREATMENT The final area of research concerns programs aimed at preventing the victimization of people with disabilities and treating those who experience victimization. The points below come from the papers by Sobsey and Calder, Baladerian, and Sullivan. Mechanisms of victimization. The list of potential mechanisms that may contribute to the increased risk of abuse for people with developmental disabilities is long. More research is required to determine which of the mechanisms play a significant role and what other factors are important. Evaluation of prevention efforts. Many advocacy organizations and criminal justice agencies are experimenting with programs to prevent the victimization of persons with disabilities. These efforts often involve training persons with developmental disabilities how to avoid dangerous situations. Evaluations of the effectiveness of such programs in reducing victimization are critical to ensuring the safety of people with developmental disabilities. Development of treatment programs. Research on the needs of crime victims with developmental disabilities could help inform the development of appropriate treatment programs, which once developed must also be evaluated.