Gov. Jerry Brown 

 

Beck Diefenbach/Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that allows residents of developmental centers and mental health hospitals to receive a medical examination at an off-site facility if sexual abuse is suspected – one of two new laws strengthening protections for disabled patients.

The first bill, which passed with unanimous support through the Assembly and state Senate, also requires developmental centers to report to law enforcement any incidents of serious injury or death within two hours of a staff member observing or hearing about it.

The new mandates come in response to a series of stories by California Watch, a project of The Center for Investigative Reporting, that outlined repeated failures by the state’s developmental centers, which house about 1,500 patients with severe disabilities.

The Office of Protective Services, the police force at the state’s developmental centers, did not order a single hospital-supervised rape examination for 36 alleged sexual assault victims between 2009 and 2012. At most police departments, using a “rape kit” to collect evidence would be considered routine.

The procedure, performed by specially trained nurses, is widely regarded as the best way to find evidence of sexual abuse. In the three dozen cases of sexual abuse, documents obtained by California Watch revealed that patients suffered molestation, forced oral sex and vaginal lacerations.

The legislation signed this week also mandates that medical examiners performing rape kit examinations must report suspected abuse and sexual assaults to local law enforcement. It allows sexual-assault examinations to take place in the state hospital where the alleged incident occurred if “the state hospital is deemed safer for the resident.”

Under current law, developmental centers are required to write internal reports of serious abuse and death within two days, but reporting the incidents to police and sheriff’s departments is not mandatory. The new legislation would reduce that reporting window to two hours and make law enforcement reporting mandatory.

“This bill will protect vulnerable Californians from abuse and hold both perpetrators and state caretakers accountable,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, co-author of the legislation allowing off-site sexual-abuse examinations.

A second bill also signed by Brown requires local law enforcement to participate in specialized training for interacting with the vulnerable populations at developmental centers. Many of the centers’ residents cannot speak or have trouble speaking.

“The current internal process to report and investigate these violations is inadequate,” said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Woodland, author of a companion bill. “These matters should be investigated by local law enforcement agencies to ensure that state hospital and developmental center residents have access to the same protections as those who do not reside in state institutions.”

Robert Salladay is an executive producer of CIR's documentary film unit. Previously, he was The Center for Investigative Reporting's editorial director and managing editor. He was the principal editor of projects that won the George Polk Award in 2011 and 2012. Projects he has managed also have won a national News & Documentary Emmy and four Investigative Reporters and Editors awards. He covered California politics and government for more than a decade, including as a reporter and blogger for the Los Angeles Times. A California native and graduate of UC Berkeley, Salladay received a master's degree from Northwestern University and began his career as a reporter for the Fremont Argus. He also has worked for the Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. Salladay is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.