‘In Jennifer’s Room’ details routine sexual abuse case at CA mental facility
A video released Thursday by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) outlines one of several cases of neglect by the agency charged with protecting residents at California’s five care centers for the developmentally disabled.
According to California Watch, records show the Office of Protective Services (OPS), which serves as the centers’ police force, failed to respond to 36 accusations of molestation or rape against staff over the past four years. Records also show that doctors at the five facilities were not trained in dealing with sexual assault victims.
The video, “In Jennifer’s Room,” details another case, involving a disabled woman named Jennifer, a resident at a facility in Sonoma, who began showing signs of assault in August 2006 and accused a staff member of sexually abusing her. An investigation went nowhere, however, in part because of her condition.
To protect both her and her family’s privacy in the short film, a CIR staff member reads statements from Jennifer’s mother, who would take her home every other weekend.
“All over her body, she had bruises, and they couldn’t explain the bruises” her mother said. “Finally I agreed for in the morning to strip and search her for bruises, and in the evening to strip and search her, because I wanted to know what was causing these bruises. Since they didn’t seem to know what the problem was, it’s the staff’s word against Jenny’s.”
Months later, after being transferred to her own room with an alarm on the door, Jennifer complained of heavy diarrhea while visiting her mother. Days later, she was revealed to be nearly six months pregnant.
“Within a week, the doctor that was there resigned,” Jennifer’s mother said. “The patients’ right advocate resigned. They started disappearing.”
Jennifer gave birth to a boy in August 2007, around the time OPS got an anonymous letter accusing one of the facility’s janitors of raping her, causing the pregnancy. Sheriff’s Department officials subsequently obtained DNA samples from most of the staff.
“They had three janitors,” her mother said. “One of the janitors gave [a DNA sample] to them. One of the janitors refused. The third fled to Mexico. They said it was a matter of family, I don’t know.”
Leslie Morrison, lead investigator for Disability Rights California, said Jennifer’s case shows the added disadvantages the female disabled face in sexual assault cases.
“Imagine that you’ve been living in an institution and you’ve been victimized,” Morrison said. “You don’t have any means to leave the institution, you don’t have access to a phone, you don’t have family to come and visit you. And you’re going to tell someone that a staff member has victimized you, and that staff member is working the next shift.”
Watch the video, posted by CIR on YouTube Thursday, below. Note: it does carry a trigger warning for the subject matter.