The NPR investigation found a hidden epidemic of sexual abuse.

A participant helps Park hang the agenda on the wall at the start of class.

The NPR investigation found a hidden epidemic of sexual abuse.


We are about to bring you a national sexual assault and attack on the voices of those who can’t hear. They are very vulnerable americans. But so far their experience has rarely been discussed. NPR’s team spent a year reporting sexual assaults on people with mental disabilities. Our correspondent, Joseph Shapiro, didn’t reveal the government’s Numbers before, showing that they were more attacked than others.

Joe, how long is this?

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, wired: people with mental disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-disabled people.

INSKEEP: more than seven times.

SHAPIRO: seven. We asked the department of justice to calculate this ratio for us. I know from the report that it collected the data, but it wasn’t published until we asked. We call it the epidemic of sexual assault.

INSKEEP: now, when you reveal this particularly high number to people working with people with mental disabilities, are they surprised?

SHAPIRO: it fits their experience. Like Sheryl white-scott, a doctor in New York City, she’s just practicing with people with mental disabilities. She believes that at least half of the people she considers to be victims of sexual assault.

White Wyatt Scott: if that’s the case, we’re going to be angry that god bless the children, or if the old man is abused by such a high rate. We will be angry. This is low and unrecognized.

INSKEEP: but why is this ratio so high for this particular group of people?

SHAPIRO: some of them are mentally disabled. They need to rely on others. They are taught to trust others. We’ve told you that we’re going to hear a lot of voices in this series, people with mental disabilities who are raping survivors. Here’s James Meadours from SAN Antonio.

JAMES MEADOURS: I think it is more common, because a lot of people – sometimes I don’t want to say an easy target, but this is an easy target, because people work hard, trying to find a friend, and try to adapt to our community.

SHAPIRO: they’re in a group home, in school, at work, in the van with them in those places, and they’re always in danger. Our Numbers show that they are more likely than others to be sexually assaulted by people they know. Steve, the other reason for the high rate of attack is that these cases are rarely prosecuted. This means that the abuser can abuse it again. In one of my stories, I went back to Essex county, New Jersey. That was one of the first cases to get national attention. In Glen Ridge, New Jersey, a trial was held in 1992 and 1993. And, Steve, I know you’ve been tried.

INSKEEP: yes, this is the story of one of my former journalists – high school athletes – four of whom were convicted of laking a 17-year-old special education student into the basement and raping her.

SHAPIRO: that’s right. One of my stories is about what prosecutors learned from the case 25 years ago, and what they are doing now.

INSKEEP: this is a story we’re going to hear in the next few weeks from the NPR survey. Joe, how did you get into this?

SHAPIRO: I’ve been writing about this group for 30 years, mentally disabled people themselves – they keep telling me these stories. They told me about the pain of their sexual assault. Tomorrow we have a story. We took a sex education class in Maine. This is a teacher’s clip. She’s on the whiteboard. She’s writing the answer.

Park: why do we want to be in a relationship?

Julianne: for love.

PARK: for love.

Julianne: and the sexual response.

PARK: so, love and sex – right? – happy – what else? How about romance?


ZACH: there’s nothing wrong with that.

PARK: no problem.

SHAPIRO: some of the girls in that class said they wanted romance. They desperately want to be in a relationship. But they tell us that the biggest obstacle is the common sexual assault of the past.

INSKEEP: tomorrow we’ll hear their voices – voices we rarely hear in our country – this is the morning edition. This is the start of the NPR survey, which will begin in the next two weeks. Joseph Shapiro, thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: thanks Steve.


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