As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has sought the public’s assistance in identifying four men who are suspected of committing truly horrific acts of sexual abuse against severely disabled women. The Sheriff’s Department released composite sketches of the four men, which they compiled from reviewing more than 100 hours of video footage of the assaults. The video footage was provided to the Sheriff’s Department by an anonymous source.
Within a few days, the Sheriff’s Department efforts, with assistance by the L.A. Police Dept., had resulted in the arrests of two of the four suspects (Ernie Lloyd and Bert Hicks) in the sexual assault investigation. Efforts continue to identify the other two suspects, as well as the victims.
The horrific nature of these crimes is obvious and outrageous. What should not be forgotten, however, in the discussion of these events is the question of how these men were able to repeatedly carry out these acts against the most defenseless members of our society. At least some of the sexual assaults apparently took place in residential care facilities.
Although the news accounts appropriately focus on the shocking nature of these crimes, the fact is that they are not unprecedented. Our firm recently concluded a case in which a hospital employee had committed hundreds of acts of sexual abuse of brain damaged children, over a 10-year period, at a very well-respected facility. Previously, we had handled two other cases in which disabled people had been sexually assaulted by paratransit drivers.
What we learned from those prior cases is that institutions who care for the disabled are often blind to the possibility that acts of sexual abuse can occur in their midst. That is unacceptable. It is incumbent upon these institutions to carefully screen all new hires, closely supervise their employees and train their staff to identify and act on “red flags” that might indicate that someone who is caring for the disabled has a tendency towards sexual abuse. These steps are not difficult or complicated, but they require that clear guidelines be set up and consistently enforced.
Unfortunately, we have found that many institutions (most of whom should know better) often don’t want to even face the prospect that sexual abuse of disabled people can occur. The recent story shows what can happen as a result.
[Image: CBS_fan via Flickr]