Training law enforcement, professionals to support people with disabilities

Written by SAFE
Two people sitting at a table smiling. They are participating in a training.

James Meadours of Texas Advocates (left) sits with Megan Westmore of The SAFE Alliance (right) during the Aug. 31 Pathways to Justice training. Photo by Texas Advocates.

After the success of last year’s Pathways to Justice training, SAFE was honored to partner with The Arc of Texas for another incredible session this year. The day-long training brought law enforcement, legal professionals, and victim service providers together to learn about how to better work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

People with disabilities in the U.S. are 2-3 times more likely to be victims of violence and abuse than people who don’t have disabilities. That’s according to Leigh Ann Davis, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives at The Arc of the United States.

“Victim service professionals, law enforcement, and legal professionals need tools and knowledge to provide outreach and resources that will bring justice and healing,” she said. “Pathways to Justice bridges gaps in communication and services and ensures those with disabilities who want to talk about these issues have the platform to do so.”

About 120 people attended the Aug. 31 training, representing organizations and agencies like the Austin Police Department, Travis County Sheriff’s Department, Integral Care, DFPS, Disability Rights Texas, and Texas Advocates – just to name a few. Pathways to Justice was hosted by The Arc of Texas and Travis County.

Abuse and people with disabilities

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, people with disabilities experience higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse. On top of that, people with disabilities face additional barriers when seeking help – including the fear of reporting someone who takes care of them and concerns of how they will be treated by law enforcement.

“Too many people with disabilities are victimized without justice,” said Kyle Piccola, Chief Government and Community Relations Officer with The Arc of Texas. “Pathways to Justice is important to survivors with disabilities because it gives survivors a chance to share their story with criminal justice professionals and train them on how to identify and communicate with people with disabilities so the crimes committed against them don’t continue to go uninvestigated.”

Too often, people with I/DD go unidentified as having a disability and are not provided appropriate supports, often facing stigma and stereotypes.

The Pathways to Justice training focused on increasing general awareness about I/DD, teaching how to identify if someone has I/DD, becoming familiar with current issues impacting crime victims with I/DD, and providing local and state resources available to victim service providers.

SAFE’s connection to Pathways to Justice

For more than two decades, SAFE’s Disability Services team has provided trainings and education for individuals and organizations to reduce the risks of abuse affecting people with I/DD.

“SAFE Disability Services staff have deep knowledge about and a wealth of experience in working with crime victims with disabilities. Partnering with SAFE is a natural fit for NCCJD and we could not be more excited to work with such passionate leaders in the field.” — Leigh Ann Davis, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives at The Arc

It is our hope that trainings like Pathways to Justice continue to provide information that better prepares law enforcement, legal professionals, and victim service professionals to work with people with I/DD. We don’t want to see anyone struggle through the justice system.