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Where Do Candidates Stand on Sexual Assault and Rape?

Washington, Oct. 14 – Given the news cycle, talk about sexual assault and rape has increased.

It’s important to note that children with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than children without disabilities. Victims of assault are more likely to commit crimes. Every nine minutes an adult with a disability is sexually assaulted or raped.

As part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire,the nonpartisan nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for Senate or Governor about their plans to address these issues. While many had plans regarding rape and sexual assault, several had specific plans for rape and sexual assault of people with disabilities. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to address these issues and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.

Check out what they have to say below:

Gubernatorial Candidates

State Senator Colin Bonini (DE-R)
“Education is needed. I was not aware of this information but as people are made aware of the signs and the risk for certain populations that are more vulnerable, then we can hopefully curb this. It’s vitally important that those in our education, non-profit and other communities receive the appropriate awareness training.”

Dr. Bud Pierce (OR-R)
“We need to have oversight, and vigorous investigation, to prevent abuse, including sexual abuse, of all people, and especially the vulnerable disabled.”

Mr. Mike Weinholtz (UT-D)
“Utah has a shameful record when it comes to rape and sexual assault, and I feel that the state has only started to address the underlying problems that cause these crimes to happen in the first place.

First, I feel that law enforcement and the criminal justice system needs to place a greater emphasis on investigating, arresting, and convicting those who are guilty of rape and sexual assault. Sadly, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, only 32 percent of crimes are actually reported, of those only seven out of 100 rapes will lead to an arrest, with three being forwarded to prosecutors, and only two will spend at least a day in jail. This effectively means that 98 percent of all rapists walk free. These statistics are wholly unacceptable and the culture that allows these statistics to become a reality must be changed.

Related to this, victims need to feel safe in reporting the crime. All too often victims are afraid of reparations by the accused or society, so they prefer to remain silent on this serious topic. I feel this culture is allowed because, for the most part, perpetrators know they will not be punished for the crime. So, again, law enforcement and the criminal justice system needs to take the issue seriously, and we need to create a culture that is intolerant of rape and sexual assault so that accusers feel safe to come forward.

In the case of disabled populations, the issue is even more complex. Besides greater education regarding Adult Protective Services to the local community I feel there are three other actions that must take place. First, I feel we must reduce the total number of potential perpetrators through a change in culture, next I feel the state must provide care givers and victims the tools they need to know and understand when a rape or sexual assault has taken place, and to feel safe in coming forward with these allegations. Third, though I feel support networks should be in place for any victim of sexual assault, this fact is particularly true for the physically or mentally disabled, as they are the most vulnerable of all populations.”

Sec. Sue Minter (VT-D)
“I want a strong system that allows suspicions of abuse to be reported and investigated as quickly as possible. Vermont’s protection system for children is currently under considerable pressures brought about by substance abuse and understaffing. Vermont’s Adult Protective Services division, which addresses abuse of elderly Vermonters and those with disabilities, is currently strong. I support the continuation of a recently established advisory committee of advocates, Legal Aid attorneys and others to monitor the case files and activities of our Adult Protective Services division.”

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (VT-R)
“Rape and sexual assault are inexcusable, period. Vermont’s laws carry harsh penalties for those who abuse our most vulnerable, and I will uphold and defend those laws for all Vermonters.”

Senate Candidates

Mr. Ron Crumpton (AL-D)
“I will fight to increase fines and jail-time for those convicted of preying on Americans with disabilities.”

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“Kamala Harris began her career prosecuting sexual assault cases and understands that persons with disabilities are often targets of sexual violence. As California Attorney General, she released a Model Memorandum of Understanding designed to help law enforcement agencies and institutions of higher learning improve their coordination, collaboration, and transparency in response to cases of campus sexual assault and she has championed new technology to allow California to process rape kits faster in order to clear a longstanding backlog of rape kits in state crime labs. In the Senate, Kamala will continue serving as a champion for sexual assault victims and will fight for enhanced protections for all victims of sexual assault, including persons with disabilities.”

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-D)
“As a staunch advocate for sexual assault survivors, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and robust IDEA funding, I am committed to fight for quality protections for children and adults with disabilities. Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have worked diligently to ensure the voices and lived experiences of disabled Americans are heard and that we work together to reform, improve, and expand legislation to better ensure that all disabled Americans, regardless of background or zip code, are protected from discrimination and abuse. I have continuously put robust funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as one of my top priorities within the appropriations process because I firmly believe that all students with disabilities receive a quality education with the resources and protections they deserve. Moreover, as co-founder of the Women in the Military Caucus, I have been part of the long fight to not only stamp out sexual assault in the military but in all our public institutions.

“As Senator, I vow to continue to put these priorities at the forefront of my policy agenda. As sexual assault cases become more and more prevalent in the public eye, I will remain firm in working with my colleagues within and across party lines to expand legislation that will put in place further protections for sexual assault survivors with disabilities. We need to ensure that children with disabilities are not placed in environments where their safety would be compromised. I believe expanding funding/grants for programs for disabled children and ensuring our public schools have programs available are also important. Leadership is key when establishing the climate of a certain place or organization. Leadership must make discrimination unacceptable and emphasize that all humans deserve respect and protection. I believe my 20 years of experience in combating sexual assault and protecting our most vulnerable communities serves as a complementary example of my commitment to this issue.”

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“Sexual violence is unacceptable in any situation, whether in the military, on a college campus, or in a situation that exploits people with disabilities. I have supported the Violence Against Women Act vigorously, including provisions that mandate rapists be held accountable and that prioritize the needs of underserved communities such as people with disabilities. In the Senate, I will fight passionately for the safety and protection of all people with disabilities from sexual violence.”

Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-R)
“I did not know persons with disabilities were at a higher risk for rape and sexual assault. That fact is a tragedy. All persons, especially the disabled, should enjoy the equal protection of our laws and government.”

Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“We need to ensure the very best screening, training and continuing education for professionals dealing with people with disabilities and their families. Streamlining reporting and investigation is a must. I will support legislation and policies that protect people with disabilities as a top priority.”

Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“More resources must be made available in schools and vocational training centers for people with disabilities that include self-advocacy skills as well best self-defense practices. People with disabilities need to be given the tools to avoid more dangerous situations and know how address criminal activity against them before they become another statistic.”

Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“Our law enforcement community is one of our country’s greatest assets but they have an incredibly tough job. We need to empower our local leaders with the tools they need to equip our law enforcement officers with the training to identify and differentiate those who may need assistance from those who pose a danger.”

Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)
“We must provide people with disabilities the tools not only to proactively protect themselves from criminals when they can do so and access to law enforcement protection, but also ensure that our legal system provides justice for those who are victims.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“The horrific reality of sexual assault of persons with disabilities must be addressed with urgency. When I was in the state legislature, I worked to strengthen penalties for rape. We must educate both persons with disabilities to be self-advocates and service providers to be aware of signs of sexual assault so these crimes will be reported, investigated, and prosecuted. We must continue broader strategies aimed at prevention of sexual assault and rape, including comprehensive sex education and understanding of consent.”

Secretary of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“Yes. As a nation, we must do better to fight against rape and sexual assault. Given that people with disabilities are more likely to face sexual violence, this is an issue of the utmost urgency. I support criminal background checks for those working with people with disabilities and making sure survivors are given the utmost protection under the law.

“I have a record of working to protect victims of sexual assault and rape as Secretary of State. I worked to expand Missouri’s Safe at Home program, which allows victims of rape and sexual assault to use an alternative address to keep their whereabouts unknown to their assailants.”

Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“Rape and sexual assault are heinous crimes, but especially when they are carried out against those most vulnerable. All of us must work together to ensure community-based organizations and law enforcement understand what to look for in the aftermath of these crimes if they are not reported and how to respond to cases of rape and sexual assault when they involve a victim with disabilities.”

Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“Yes. Sexual assault, and crimes committed against our most vulnerable, cannot and will not be tolerated. One of my proudest moments as Attorney General was watching Governor Sandoval sign into law landmark legislation I sponsored to combat sex trafficking. Working with people and groups across this state, we helped survivors find the courage to come forward and stand up to the human traffickers. We expanded the sex offender registry and gave victims the right to sue their captors. We made sex trafficking a felony. And most importantly, we gave survivors a path to a new beginning. As a U.S. Senator, I will be proud to continue to be an advocate for victims of sexual assault, securing protections for victims, including members of our disabled community and those most vulnerable.”

Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“Yes. I helped introduce and enact into law legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which strengthened the health care system’s response to domestic and sexual violence. I’ve consistently supported full funding for VAWA and related programs. There is a provision in VAWA that specifically sets aside funding for grants to end violence against women with disabilities. I’ve additionally helped introduce the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act which prohibits discrimination against any person – including specifically those with disabilities – when it comes to receiving federal assistance under those programs.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“Sexual assault is an unthinkable crime, one that tragically happens far too often, especially to people with disabilities. We must always be working to prevent sexual assault in the first place and have required criminal background checks for those working with people with disabilities. This ensures that a perpetrator cannot move from one facility or community to another after being fired. We must also protect survivors when such a tragedy occurs and promptly investigate any incident. I support measures such as Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, an important step to build on the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. By clearly articulating rights to address the unique challenges faced by sexual assault survivors, this bill will help empower survivors and send a clear signal that the law is on their side. I remain committed to advancing strong protections at every level for victims and survivors of all crimes, and I will support policies to help protect children and adults with disabilities from sexual assault.”

“I have signed legislation establishing the crime of domestic violence, strengthened protections for human trafficking victims, and provided funding to support child victims of crime.”

Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“I believe one of the fundamental tasks of government is to protect the vulnerable, and protecting individuals with disabilities from those who commit the heinous crimes of rape and sexual assault is an issue I have made a top priority during my time in the Senate. Congress recently passed legislation I introduced, the Military Sex Offender Reporting Act, which closes a significant loophole that previously allowed some sex offenders to evade registration with the National Sex Offender Registry. Ensuring that sex offenders are registered and known is an important part of protecting the vulnerable from becoming victims of those who commit these horrific crimes, and I am currently working to provide strong oversight to ensure that these provisions are being implemented.

“I am also committed to ensuring that the perpetrators who commit these crimes against people with disabilities are discovered, prosecuted, and prevented from reoffending. I have cosponsored legislation to ensure that rape kits are tested so that the perpetrators can be convicted, and I have supported laws providing resources to track down sex offenders who do not register.

“The State Department has noted that individuals with disabilities are particularly at risk of being trafficking victims, and I have worked to stop human trafficking both in the United States and around the globe and to provide support for survivors. I’m also proud to have supported programs like the Department of Justice’s Training and Services to End Violence Against Women with Disabilities Grant Program, which was established in the Violence Against Women Act in 2000.”

State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
“I have always looked out for victims of domestic and sexual violence. In the State House, I supported a number of bills that strengthened laws against sex offenders, including the state’s registry. I sponsored legislation that prohibited victims from being billed for rape kits and brought the state into compliance with VAWA, which secured millions in future federal spending. I was successful in passing legislation that increased the penalty for violating a protective order while armed with a deadly weapon and making changes to how domestic violence cases were handled in court. In the U.S. Senate, I will continue to work for protecting all people from domestic and sexual violence taking special care to address the needs of people with disabilities who are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault.”

Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“First we must pass laws nationwide that register all sex offenders. In Oregon, currently 98% of the sex offenders are not registered, this creates a dangerous situation. Second there needs to be extensive oversight in the hiring of people who work with the disabled to ensure they are not previous offenders nor prone to be one. As well legislation needs to be passed that funds the research to identify how to educate individuals with disabilities about the dangers and as well an education program that is able to teach them about these dangers. Recently, Narlina was discussing with me about how she reached out to the Autism Society regarding assistance in teaching her autistic son just going into puberty about his body and what is okay and what is not and she found that in Oregon there was no program for this. She said it complicates the ability of her as a parent to ensure her son properly understands about his own body and what is not okay.”

Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“Nationally, initiatives like the It’s On Us campaign have shed light on the scope of rape and sexual assault in our country. To begin to make progress it’s important to recognize that people with disabilities may face additional barriers to reporting assault, or being taken at their word when they do report. We should ensure that we’re giving victims the support they need and a platform to continue to reduce the stigma surrounding assault.”

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“The statistics on rape and sexual assault of people with disabilities are appalling. I believe that our society must do more to prevent sexual assault and to ensure that victims of rape and sexual assault are listened to and believed by law enforcement and by their communities. I am a strong supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for sexual assault prevention, and which my opponent, Senator Johnson, voted against reauthorizing. Some progress has also been made by the Justice Department, which issued new forensic examination guidelines that specifically address treating people with disabilities. But we must also do more at a grassroots level to support men and women with disabilities who are victims of sexual assault. I support outreach campaigns that raise awareness among people with disabilities and their allies about community resources for people affected by rape and sexual assault.”


RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.

The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at http://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.

Published in#PwDsVote 2016 QuestionnaireCongressGovernorsSenate

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