A public movement to provide legal protections for people with developmental disabilities from abuse has led to several legislative efforts over the last few years, but has resulted in little progress. Several bills have been introduced but became lost at the committee level. One bill was passed by both the Senate and Assembly, but has yet to be signed by the Governor. In addition, the bill would limit protections to those individuals who reside in foster care settings, and would ignore protections for residents in group homes, nursing homes, supervised apartments and those engaged in day training programs.
Yet, reports of the abuse of these vulnerable individuals continue to be uncovered. One recent report deals with a 35-year-old case that is now finally being made public. The Assistant Superintendent of the Hunterdon Developmental Center has been suspended as a result of an investigation of abuse at the center in 1977 and 1978. According to the report, the Assistant Superintendent, who served in an entry-level position at the time, fed feces to one of the residents.
The Hunterdon Facility has come under scrutiny over the past year, with the suspension of a doctor, who allegedly conducted illegal and dangerous research on the residents of the Center. The obvious implication that stems from these reports is that the abuse of the developmentally disabled population may be ongoing and possibly has existed for a long period of time. Unfortunately, the victims of such abuse are unable to report these events to proper authorities and the patter of abuse continues.
The helpless victims of such abuse are often powerless to defend themselves and are unable to articulate the incidents, as they occur. It is obviously time for the State Legislature to move expeditiously to provide the protections that are long overdue. Conflicting data has been reported over the number of victims, injuries, and deaths. However, it is clear that the developmentally disabled population is a group devoid of civil and human rights. As a society, this is a syndrome that we can no longer afford to tolerate.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a disability policy specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law.