We asked our own Nora J. Baladerian, Ph.D. to recount some of the history of her involvement with victims with developmental disabilities and what she is currently doing. Here are some of the highlights.
My story begins in 1970 when I was hired by Harbor Regional Center, a new agency in Torrance, California. It was one of the first regional centers developed resulting from legislation that came to be known as the Lanterman Act. This new landmark legislation promised services to people of all ages with developmental disabilities. We were the case management part of the equation which meant we helped qualify people for services and then found them resources in the community. This was my first exposure to people with developmental disabilities. I was hired because I spoke fluent Spanish and had a degree in Sociology. I loved working with the many individuals who came to our regional center for help.
On My Own
I learned a great deal about individuals with developmental disabilities and their families; things that weren’t in the textbook. I saw their struggles and successes. I worked for another regional center later and then became a provider of services. Since my training included human sexuality, child development and behavior modification, I felt I was prepared to combine those areas and offer my services as an independent contractor.
Early on, I provided sexuality education to a young woman who was in trouble for kissing her boyfriend at the workshop where she worked. One day she came in quite distressed. She refused to tell me what was wrong unless I promised not to tell anyone. This, I thought, was quite sophisticated for a woman with a developmental disability. She was extremely upset. After I made my promise, she told me that her father had again made her sleep with him on the prior weekend. In addition, he had made her give him money from her earnings at 36¢ per hour to purchase beer. She had planned to use it to buy a birthday present for her boyfriend.
I told her I would keep my promise but described to her what would happen if she allowed me to tell her case manager. When I told her that her father might go to jail she smiled and seemed to feel relieved. I also said she would be moved to a safer place in a group home and be given additional supports. She agreed to allow me to call her case manager, which we did together, and all of the outcomes I had envisioned came to pass. By evening, she and her sister were moved into a group home together near the workshop so work would not be interrupted, her father was in jail, and she and her sister were safe. This outcome was a relief to me because not all cases of abuse end so well, then and now.
Searching for Answers
In my three years of working at regional centers no one ever discussed abuse. I couldn’t even find information or advice about it. I cofounded an organization on Sexuality and Individuals with Developmental Disabilities, hoping this would lead me into abuse discussions but most people wanted to avoid the topic. I left that organization and began researching and then providing counseling to abuse victims with disabilities as a therapist. I also began conducting training seminars and serving as an expert witness in court cases. It was many years until I found mothers doing similar work. In the late 80’s I finished my doctoral work and became a psychologist and a licensed therapist. I also met Dick Sobsey, another psychologist who had uncovered this “dirty little secret” in the lives of many individuals with developmental disabilities. Together, we have been able to reach hundreds of individuals, parents, family members, professionals, paraprofessionals and community members to increase awareness, increase skills among professionals in responding to abuse, and begin to build protections from abuse by developing risk reduction strategies and models.
What We Now Know About Abuse
Now, 36 years later we know much more. Research shows that children with disabilities are abused approximately three and a half times more often than children who do not have disabilities. We know that adults with developmental disabilities are abused at four to ten times the rate of others their age. We also know that men with developmental disabilities are abused at very high rates, but the non-reporting rate is higher for men. We know that most abuse is not reported and that people often suffer in silence. Finally, we know that the abusers are people the victim knows over 90% of the time.
My Involvement with The Arc of Riverside County
In the last six years I have worked as a contract employee for The Arc of Riverside County while continuing my volunteer and consulting in all areas of abuse of people with disabilities. In collaboration with The Arc of Riverside County, we have developed many curricula, videos and Web-based products and resources. Our program is called Child Abuse and Neglect Disability Outreach or CAN/DO. One of the goals we have at The Arc of Riverside County is heightened awareness. We believe this will lead to greater interest in making a difference by improving risk reduction practices, criminal justice response and treatment opportunities for victims of abuse who have disabilities.
This is my life work and each day I strive to make a difference in some way, even if it’s through a simple phone call or an e-mail. We hope more people and organizations will join us as there is still much to be done. We must end the silent acceptance of abuse and work with each other to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities.
Have your public safety officers and first responders to abuse receive training on how to respond to and interview victims of crime with disabilities by one of the leading experts in the country.
For more information on the work and services of Dr. Nora J. Baladerian, call us at (951) 688-5141 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org