People with intellectual disabilities experience sexual assault and abuse at an alarmingly high rate. Lawmakers in a handful of states across the U.S. have proposed ways to address the issue since an NPR investigation called attention to it in January. The Arc of New Mexico, a nonprofit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, isn’t waiting for state legislators to take action.
The Arc of New Mexico’s new program will focus on the needs of victims, from helping them navigate the legal system to educating their care providers, counselors and employers. Pamela Stafford is the Director of Public Policy with the Arc of New Mexico and says between 75 and 90 percent of individuals they serve experience sexual abuse.
"These numbers are so high that in any other population there would’ve been an outcry decades ago," said Stafford. "Almost everybody with an intellectual disability has been sexually assaulted. That should be shocking."
The new program is funded by the state's Crime Victims Reparations Commission, which has a focus on underserved populations.
Stafford says they're starting small, hiring one advocate to serve up to 25 people throughout Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe, Torrance, Valencia and Cibola counties. They are partnering with other service providers, including the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs to develop an entirely new program.
"We have the expertise in the population [of people with intellectual disabilities]," said Stafford. "We don’t have the expertise in sexual assault services, so we’re gonna be gathering that."
People with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers can call Stafford's office during business hours at (505) 883-4630. The Arc of New Mexico will announce a new 24-hour phone number to reach the on-call advocate in July.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and the Con Alma Health Foundation.