The Network

Report date
November 2019

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Collaboration was and continues to be a significant component of progress during the entire grant term. Bridging South Dakota (BSD) is a partnership between the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, South Dakota Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, and Communication Service for the Deaf. BSD's collaboration effectively promoted its mission of improving services through a 211 project with the Helpline Center. This project has created an easily accessible link for victims/survivors to search for resources specific to their needs within their geographical location. The vision of knowledgeable, sensitive, and effective services has been supported through BSD's CSD Learns project. This project was created by the collaboration of BSD and its workgroup. This funding has assisted in the creation of a script that will be utilized to film an educational video addressing the intersection of sexual assault and disability. It provides educational information on sexual assault against persons with disabilities or who are deaf to victims, survivors, as well as professionals working across this intersection. Survivor feedback has been important for the project.
Advancing services was another key aspect of Bridging South Dakota's progress during the grant term. Services progressed through BSD's workgroup efforts. The workgroup identified areas of need, added survivors to the collaboration, added statewide members, provided trainings, and engaged in strategic planning. Statewide direct services are now accessible through Bridging South Dakota's liaison work. Liaison positions were created and have been implemented. The liaisons began in-take during June, 2019. These positions provide direct services as well as referrals to victims/survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault with disabilities or who are deaf. Several trainings were implemented by BSD through collaborative efforts. These trainings included specialized law enforcement training. BSD spoke at the state law enforcement centeral coordinating conference. Another training put on by BSD brought in speaker Dr. Duehn to speak at the Center for the Prevention on Child Maltreatment's conference. Dr. Duehn spoke on the intersection of sexual assault and disability to a multidisciplinary audience. Additional partnerships and training opportunities continue to expand through BSD.
The work group consists of representatives from victim services organizations, disability services organizations, individuals with disabilities, and survivors. The growth of the work group has brought together ideas and plans to really analyze the work in South Dakota surrounding the intersection of violence and disabilities. As the project initially focused on sexual violence and disability, the work group has expanded the view to violence and disability. To bring together the victim services and disability services professionals, the work group is currently planning a statewide conference which will be unique to other conferences offered in South Dakota. The concept is to specifically address the intersection, to bring together professionals who do not often meet or work together, and to begin to address the identified gaps for victims with disabilities in the systems. This conference would take place in September 2020 in western SD. The Bush project funded law enforcement training with David Whalen from Niagara University. David's program specializes on training on all disabilities; David is now working with the disability self advocates to expand training in the state.

Key lessons learned

During the grant term, a key lesson learned was that there is a great need for expansive services in regards to sexual assault against persons with disabilities or deaf persons within the state of South Dakota. The Network has applied for a continuation grant to continue to address the state's needs. Technical Assistance is a specific area of need that will be addressed during the next grant term if rewarded. Bridging South Dakota partners will be able to provide technical assistance to agencies statewide that work at the sexual assault and disability intersection. The technical assistance would include addressing access and safety needs through policy and procedural development, changes in physical agency structures, safety planning with clients, safety planning with staff, etc. The project identified that disability services organizations did address access through ADA standards only, and victim services organizations addressed safety concerns with victims only. The consideration for total access and safety needs for all individuals is not a consideration for agencies. There is a tremendous interest and momentum for the project to continue and sustain the work.
Another area of need is in trainings for all professionals working across the intersection of violence and disability. The continuation grant seeks to address this need by providing additional statewide trainings in addition to a statewide conference. This conference will bring together multidisciplinary professionals throughout the state of South Dakota to collaborate on social change. BSD hopes to bring a national key-note speaker to this conference as well as local breakout speakers. In this way, BSD seeks to provide current information on what is happening in this area on a national level as well as maintaining current on best practices with local practitioners.
Law enforcement and prosecutors have identified the need for specialized resources when working with individuals with disabilities and deaf persons in the criminal justice system. There is not one law enforcement officer or prosecutor in the state with specific training to interview, respond, investigate, etc. victims and offenders with disabilities. Because of this, law enforcement and prosecutors have shared with the BSD work group that many cases involving individuals with disabilities do not move forward. There is a need through training to identify in-state resources for law enforcement and prosecutors. The work group members have discussed sending a few law enforcement officers and prosecutors out of state to attend specific training when working with individuals with disabilities- how to interview, etc. There were a couple recent cases of individuals with intellectual disabilities presenting at the emergency room for a rape kit. The hospital staff called law enforcement. The law enforcement department admittedly struggled with how to respond, when to involve the guardian/parent in the discussion since the individual was an adult, and how to proceed with the case overall.

Reflections on the community innovation process

The collaboration element has and continues to be the most important part of completing the work that Bridging South Dakota has set out to accomplish. Separately, the BSD partners have identified community needs. It is through the collaboration of these partner agencies that solutions to community problems have been generated and tested. The BSD workgroup is implementing project areas such as trainings, provision of resources, and continued needs assessment. This workgroup understands that we are just beginning to tap the surface of the needs surrounding disability and sexual assault. Assessing the community needs through collaborative efforts has assisted the effectiveness of BSD projects as well as continued sustainability when considering long-term planning.

Progress toward an innovation

This project was started and continued to respond to crime victims with disabilities or who are deaf. Working together with service providers and survivors with disabilities, BSD was able to complete strategic planning to outline the necessary approach to move to accomplishing the grant objectives. Considering that there are not specific victim services for crime victims with disabilities or for those who are deaf in SD, the team has been able to move closer to effective, equitable, and sustainable approaches in developing services and response. In addition to a statewide conference on a statewide response, the work group identified needs for training for law enforcement and prosecutors to specialize their investigative skills working with individuals with disabilities and deaf victims. The project has created innovative ideas and plans to provide sustainable infrastructure within the criminal justice system for victims with disabilities. Hopefully, this project will receive continuation funding from the foundation to complete these additional projects. This project and work is innovative and absolutely necessary to respond to the high percentage of crime victims with disabilities.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

1. To continue to improve education and awareness of professionals regarding sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, etc.
2. To continue to improve knowledge and understanding of disabilities, the Deaf culture, and ableism
3. To continue to improve the overall response for sexual assault victims with disabilities and Deaf individuals in SD by all service providers
4. To continue to increase the reports of sexual assault of individuals with disabilities and Deaf individuals
5. To continue to increase the investigation and prosecution rates of sexual assault of individuals with disabilities and Deaf individuals
6. To continue to create safe, accessible victim services and disability services for everyone in SD
7. To continue to decrease the negative experiences of survivors of sexual assault when attempting to access resources and services that cannot meet their needs and providers whom do not understand their needs to meet
8. To continue to improve knowledge and understanding of the needs of sexual assault survivors with disabilities and Deaf individuals so agencies’ policies and procedures reflect the needed accommodations and makes their needs paramount to their se

What's next?

One way that Bridging South Dakota would like to continue this project is by developing and putting on a statewide conference in 2020. This conference will bring together professionals from various backgrounds such as law enforcement, social workers, advocates, crisis workers, health care professionals, educators, and many more. The focus of the conference will be on addressing the intersection of sexual assault and disability. BSD hopes to invite a national, keynote speaker to this conference who will bring experience in this arena of work from a national perspective on what practices have been working. Additionally, this conference will seek out local speakers to address best practices in various areas of the intersection. The conference will generate public awareness, connect professionals working across this intersection, and encourage attendees to go forth and seek community enhancement through combatting sexual violence against persons with disabilities.

If you could do it all over again...

Patience is important to understand and accept as the work can be slow. The project work group initially had really wanted to have many participants who were survivors of crimes but could not identify many ready to ask to serve. Throughout the project work, project partners have met many survivors with disabilities and deaf survivors. The work group continues to grow to include more survivors. The input from survivors with disabilities and deaf survivors has proven to be critical in our work. We have asked for continuation funding to ensure that we have funds to reimburse the travel costs for survivors to participate with all work groups meetings and activities. A piece of advice would be to be patient as the project moves forward and that learning would mean to truly understand the value to hear the voices of survivors throughout the entire project.

One last thought

Our group continues to seek to connect the agencies that serve people with disabilities or who are deaf who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or other forms of abuse, to provide equal access to trauma informed services through means of collaboration, knowledge sharing, advocacy and referrals to appropriate resources. Following this project individuals with disabilities will have access to trauma informed services that meet their individual needs. As services are developed, individuals with disabilities will involved to ensure best possible/equitable services. This will be different as many programs attempt to serve all individuals in the same manner failing to recognize the different needs people with disabilities may have (cognition, comprehension, stamina, etc.). By learning the unique needs individuals may have, agencies' staff will better understand how to modify service delivery to help increase access of trauma informed services for all. Agencies will receive training and guidance to improve response for all. Resulting from statewide training individuals with disabilities will have a voice in the services they are needing following a traumatic event