In The Politics of Autism, I write:
People with disabilities are victims of violent crime three times as often as people without disabilities. The Bureau of Justice Statistics does not report separately on autistic victims, but it does note that the victimization rate is especially high among those whose disabilities are cognitive. A small-sample study of Americans and Canadians found that adults with autism face a greater risk of sexual victimization than their peers. Autistic respondents were more than twice as likely to say that had been the victim of rape and over three times as likely to report unwanted sexual contact.
The social and communication impairments and other atypical behaviors among those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) make this subset of the population particularly vulnerable. These vulnerabilities also present a separate set of concerns when they have contact with the criminal justice system, typically as victims or witness of abuse, as offenders or suspicious persons, or lost or missing persons. Specific measures must be taken to improve communication and to avoid misinterpreting communication impairments and other atypical behaviors as an indication of a lack of cooperation, being under the influence of substances, or of guilt/lack of remorse. Without the benefit of having basic knowledge and understanding of autism, criminal justice system professionals will struggle with meeting the needs of those with ASD. The current study explored the level of autism knowledge and awareness of among a sample of 400 undergraduate criminal justice students and possible future criminal justice professionals. The results demonstrated that the sample of students had moderate knowledge of ASD, which did not appear to increase with time in program. Those with greater exposure to people with ASD had more knowledge and understanding than those who did not. Recommendations and implications are discussed.From the article:
Due to behavioral characteristics such as social isolation, social issues, poor communication skills, and other atypical behaviors, those with ASD are at greater risk of physical and sexual abuse (Carlile 2018; Duan et al. 2015; Edelson 2010; Hall-Lande et al. 2015; Mandell et al. 2005; Perkins and Wolkind 1991). For example, Mandell et al. (2005) reported that of the 156 children with ASD, 14% were victims of physical abuse, 12% sexual abuse, and more than 4% had been both victims of both physical and sexual abuse. An unpublished 2007 report by The Autism Society revealed that among a survey of 1500 individuals with ASD and their caregivers, 17% reported physical abuse or assault, 13% reported being the victim of sexual abuse, 8% reported a sexual assault, and 8% reported neglect (Autism Society 2006). Hall-Lande et al. (2015) noted that children with ASD and other disabilities were overrepresented in the state child protection system than children without disabilities. Further, Duan et al. (2015) noted that the severity of abuse not only increased with age, but also the severity of one’s ASD symptomology.
Unfortunately, many abuse cases go unreported and police follow-up, prosecution, and convictions of the perpetrators are low, often due to a lack of specialized police training in handling victims with developmental disabilities, and many individuals with disabilities are overwhelmed by the CJS (Gammicchia and Johnson n.d.). Victim credibility as a witness is often challenged due to concerns with memory, suggestibility, and communication (Bruck et al. 2007; Henry et al. 2017; Lindblad and Lainpelto 2011; Maras and Bowler 2010; Maras et al. 2014; Mattison et al. 2015, 2016; McCrory et al. 2007). Some parents reported that police appeared to be impatient and lacked empathy when their child had difficulty remembering events, dates, and times, which sometimes led to their child becoming too distressed to continue the interview (Edworthy and Hylton 2010).
Surveys of police officers reported that obtaining written statements or conducting interviews with individuals with ASD was difficult (Crane et al. 2016). Therefore, when police must communicate with someone with ASD, certain provisions must be implemented, beginning with the initial contact, questioning (to ensure accurate accounts of crimes are obtained), and having appropriate representation so their rights preserved. Communication provisions include adequately preparing the victim of the legal process, being aware of any communication or reading difficulties, using assistive technology when necessary, eliminating/reducing noise or other visual stimuli that could be distracting, and also limiting the number of interviews or reducing the length of interviews (Edworthy and Hylton 2010; Henry et al. 2017; Gammicchia and Johnson n.d.).