GALLIA COUNTY — The Adult Advocacy Centers (ACC) has been awarded a grant to help serve victims of human trafficking with disabilities in Gallia, Lawrence and Scioto counties.
The work done by the ACC is the first of its kind, according to Katherine Yoder, executive director.
“There isn’t anything really out there specifically for adults with disabilities who have been victimized,” Yoder said. “So, we actually have created new interview techniques. Forensic interviewing has never really been something that’s been available for adults. Forensic interviewing has always been synonymous with child advocacy centers. We’ve adapted it for adults with disabilities.”
The ACC uses the definition of disability given by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which states that a disability is, “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.”
Yoder said forensic interviewing is an interview technique with non-leading questions that should not be performed by law enforcement.
“Law enforcement [is] usually trained to interrogate and they’re good at that,” Yoder said. “Forensic interviewing is more or less trying to have a conversation so that the person is able to tell their stories in their own words, it’s more of a narrative approach.”
The ACC does train law enforcement in forensic training, Yoder said. However, since that is not their role, the ACC is called in to interview the victim while law enforcement and other officials watch from another room.
“It’s also videotaped, which is great, because that makes it admissible in a court of law and the victim doesn’t have to retell their trauma over and over again,” Yoder said.
Yoder said different interview techniques and tools are used with different disabilities to make the person being interviewed feel more comfortable and questions are asked in ways the person can understand.
“So, a lot of it too, is making accommodations and making the interview style accessible so that anyone can be interviewed,” Yoder said.
Yoder clarified what human trafficking entails, beyond sexual abuse.
“There is labor trafficking, where people are required to perform work without being paid and somebody else is making a profit off of them,” Yoder said. “The one that’s really starting to, I think gain more notice, it’s always been around, is benefits trafficking. Where people are literally being held in basements or in rooms and people, neighbors don’t even know that there’s someone else living in the house, just so the disability check can be collected.”
Yoder said human trafficking is more common than many realize and that those with disabilities are targeted by human traffickers, as they are more vulnerable.
“A lot of times, there’s stereotypes that still exist about people with disabilities, like, they’re not credible,” Yoder said. “Especially if there’s a mental health diagnosis, that they, you know, agreed to what happened versus they were being victimized.”
The ACC introduced a new way of forensic interviewing that enables better communication with those who may not speak traditionally.
“So we can effectively interview people who, maybe they ‘blank’ or use gestures or those kinds of things,” Yoder said. “We’ve really been focusing on the criminal justice system and victim services in regards to the disability community.”
Yoder said those with disabilities who have been victimized tend to need a different approach than normal.
“A lot of times people with disabilities, after they have been victimized, a lot of the traditional way that they have, kind of the support or aftercare that have been offered, really involves more of a medicated approach versus more of a trauma counseling and engagement type of approach,” Yoder said.
Yoder said previously, victims were unable to be interviewed due to a lack of proper techniques and tools.
“A lot of times, people who really would be credible witnesses are just not being interviewed,” Yoder said. “Not because they don’t have that information, but because the professionals don’t have the training. So, what we’ve essentially done is develop that training and that forensic interview protocol. And it’s geared towards adults.”
Yoder said that not only are they now equipped to handle these situations, they are also able to speak with anyone who may have developed trauma-induced communication.
“We trained a professional, actually out of Chicago,” Yoder said. “She ended up with a case where because of the trauma, that person had selective mutism, and really just wouldn’t speak, the same techniques and tools apply. And she was able to interview and get that information with more of the techniques that we had in that forensic interview protocol for people who do not speak.”
Yoder said the adaptability of the forensic interview protocol is one of the great things about the technique.
“I think that really does illustrate that these tools and techniques really are able to service a variety of different people who maybe would not have traditionally been seen as having some sort of communication problem or disability, before the trauma, but after the trauma, it surfaces and manifests. The tools and techniques would work the same,” Yoder said.
The ACC was awarded with a $26,000 Pallottine Foundation of Huntington grant to help create screening and assessment tools, as well as create the proper curriculum to train professionals to use the tools and techniques.
The program will be partnering with different outreach agencies in Gallia, Lawrence and Scioto counties to help serve those in need.
“With that one [grant], that would be more of the assessment tools to identify the different types of disabilities to get them connected with services,” Yoder said. “And then the idea is to actually, the next step, hopefully with an additional grant, would be the training aspect, training individuals who are professionals to actually implement those assessment tools.”
Yoder said the tools will be useful to help get those with disabilities who have been victimized the proper services.
“Having those assessment tools and being able to connect people with the services locally, and even further out, if they don’t exist locally, is really, really important,” Yoder said.
The current training the ACC offers has been covered by a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant to help train people across the state, Yoder said. She said that law enforcement has been one the their “biggest champions” for the project.
“They’re our partners and making sure that the proper evidence is there for these cases to start going forward and to make sure that the cases that can be prosecuted, are,” Yoder said.
“I think the biggest thing that is important for people to be aware of is that a lot of the way that people with disabilities are treated in the justice system is really based upon stereotypes that aren’t accurate,” Yoder said. “A lot of the words that we still use, like nonverbal and functioning levels, that doesn’t really tell you anything about the person.”
Yoder said proper communication comes with the proper approach.
“If you approach somebody who you know, may have a certain diagnosis with this conception, that they’re not going to be able to provide any information, then you’re probably not going to get any information from that person,” Yoder said. “But if you just sit down and try to use different techniques and tools, people are really amazed at how much information people are able to communicate with the right training.”
“The thing that we kind of say in our organization is that people with disabilities have always had a voice, we’re just teaching the rest of the world how to listen,” Yoder said.
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Brittany Hively is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @britthively; reach her at (740) 446-2342 ext 2555.