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.”
Why is this particular population so vulnerable to sexual assault?
“You know, I believe it’s because they’re kind of voiceless. Many of them don’t have the same kind of communication that we have – and so their communication is different. And a lot of times people who care for them understand that basically they can’t defend themselves their whole vocabulary is different and I think people who prey on this population know that. They know that that they can probably get away with this kind of crime because statistics say that 42 per cent of those in that population who have been assaulted are assaulted again because they don’t report it. And if they do report it – very few of those times do those trials go on to court.”
How did this bill come to you?
“Good question. It came to me by an advocacy group that has a host of people on it. It has a couple of DA’s on it from the 18th district, also from Denver DA’s , the aurora police department, and the ARC population and they were just looking at what can we do to tighten that loophole when it comes to that population being assaulted because statistics say that 80 per cent of people developmentally disabled people will be assaulted and 32 per cent of men. That’s a high number. And at this point only one percent goes to trial.”
I’ve listened to your arguments on the floor and you are quite passionate and I just wanted to know what it is about this issue that stirs your own personal passions?
“For me it was because of my own personal tragedy. 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 and 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 some thing needs to be done to correct that injustice.”
How do the advocates feel that it will affect their work if the bill is passed?
“I’ve gotten such support from the advocacy community because basically I get the impression that this is an area that has just not been addressed. It’s not been something that anyone wants to talk about. Seven other states have this similar law – so Colorado’s not going to be the first. We will be the eighth. Who knows if any other states are considering it but only seven other states have this law. This law is modeled after the same language of the law we have for children who have been sexually assaulted. Now . that law came into place in 1983. It has been vetted and constitutionally it’s sound. So we’re using the same language and verbage for that population. We’re just now making sure that those who are developmentally disabled have the same option.”
For those who say it will be a double edged sword for those who are defending the same population – what is your response to that?
“You know, I have great confidence, in our criminal justice system. The way our criminal justice system is set up is to make sure the scales are balanced and so I’ve sat through court proceedings and anything that’s not considered reliable goes through a variety of different measures and protocols and I have confidence that if it has merit and proves that it can be used in a court of law and can go through all those hurdles, I think it’s going to be just fine. I think our system is big enough and great enough and strong enough to find justice in any situation.”