End the silence on violence against persons with disabilities

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On October 22, 2015 an African American high school student with disabilities was brutally assaulted and raped by his classmates (all white and non-disabled) in Dietrich High School in Idaho.  John Howard, 18, Tanner Ward, 17, and one other unidentified member of the football team lured the victim into a school locker room, stripped him, forcefully inserted a clothes hanger into his rectum, then kicked it deeper into his rectum — causing internal injuries.  Over 30 witnesses from the school were interviewed and confirmed that the teen was sexually assaulted.

Instead of getting life in prison, the defendant, John Howard won’t be spending even 1 day in jail.  Idaho judge Randy Stoker sentenced him to two years of probation and 300 hours of community service. With good behavior, the judge said his record could be expunged. 

After the attack, the victim has tried to commit suicide multiple times. He is now in an assisted living home and has become inconsolable.  

As a disability rights activist, I have seen this inhumane response from the justice system in many contexts over the past decade.  All too often, when a person with a disability is a victim of a violent hate crime, the perpetrator does not receive adequate sentencing.  What's worse, most of the violence persons with disabilities experience, is never even arbitrated in court and it is often unreported by police.  This is a hidden atrocity that continues, without mention, dehumanizing, demoralizing and disempowering persons with disabilities in this country.   It is time to end the silence!

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, persons with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be victims of non-fatal violent crime than their peers without disabilities. Emerging evidence suggests persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, and persons living in institutional settings are at even greater risk of sexual violence.

Despite these figures, violence against persons with disabilities often goes unreported and the victims never see justice served.  Persons with disabilities in the U.S. face many barriers when trying to report violent crimes or navigate the justice system including:  lack of access to courts and police stations, lack of Sign Language interpreters in courts and inaccessible information for persons who are Blind.  Social stigma and discrimination by the police and judges can prevent cases from even being investigated or treated fairly in court.

These issues need to be addressed by our justice system!  It is time to end the silence on violence against persons with disabilities and ensure equitable access to justice.   Only with access to justice can we end the long history of hate crimes persons with disabilities experience in this country!

Please help in seeking justice for the victim today by signing this petition and asking the Idaho judiciary to ensure justice is served. 



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