Personal Tragedy Drives Support for House Bill 1085

Representative Rhonda Fields is sponsoring a bill which will help to prosecute perpetrators of sexual assault on developmentally disabled individuals. The bill (House Bill 1085) has passed Third Reading in the House and is now being introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The statistics are dramatic. They reveal that 80% of the developmentally disabled population is victimized by sexual assault. Of these, only 1% are prosecuted.

Catherine Strode, Coordinator of the Health Care Advocacy Program, asked Representative Fields how her bill will affect the well-being of this population and what drove her to sponsor the bill. Below is an excerpt from an interview with Representative Fields.

How does HB 1085 affect the well-being of this particular population?

“It will give equal access to our justice system. Right now a developmentally disabled person who’s been sexually assaulted often doesn’t know to call 9ll. Most of the time these people are taken care of by someone else – a guardian, and so when they do tell someone that they have been harmed, typically it’s not going to be to the police right away. It’s just not in their mindset to do that. They’re going to tell someone else about that crime. And right now – when they tell someone, that information, that statement is not permissible in a court of law. So basically, what 1085 will do, it will allow the opportunity for those statements they made in a safe environment, to someone they trust, to be considered. Then the judge still has to determine if it has reliability and merit. So it’s not automatic. It still has to go through a variety of different channels. But prior to this bill there wasn’t any access for those statements to be entered into a courtroom setting. And so because of that, that gives validation to this community that if you are harmed, there’s an opportunity now that the statements that you share with someone else may be considered.”

I’ve listened to your arguments on the floor and you are quite passionate. I wanted to know what it is about this issue that stirs your own personal passions?

“My son was murdered and I was his only voice and presence in the courtroom. He was silent because he was dead. And he was murdered because he was going to be a witness in a trial. So I had to bring voice to his testimony because he was no longer with us. And so that reminded me of this population. This same population doesn’t have a voice, they don’t have an advocate. And so I was glad to be their advocate, so they could have greater access to justice because when someone does something wrong, they should be held accountable for it. And if these people are revictimized over and over again because they don’t have a voice – then something needs to be done to correct that injustice.”