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Disabilities and Aging Program—Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault's Disabilities and Aging Program is one of four project partners on the Violence Against Women with Disabilities grant awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women. This grant focuses on cross training sexual assault and domestic violence service providers and service providers from the disability network. The project staff developed a cross training manual and provided six extensive daylong trainings. An accessibility guide was also developed and the project partners will provide onsite accessibility reviews to three sexual assault and/or domestic violence programs in the state.

The project supports and enhances collaborative strategies for addressing violence against women with disabilities. The strategies employed are designed to increase collaboration, foster skills enhancement, and ensure response capacity.

Making the Idea a Reality
The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault's (WCASA) Disabilities and Aging Program began in 1997. Since then, the program has grown exponentially, receiving three major grants and full-time staff dedication. WCASA has an extensive library that includes books, videos, curricula, and journals on sexual assault and people with disabilities and older individuals.

The Disabilities and Aging Program focuses on how systems work throughout Wisconsin. For example, WCASA worked on legislative measures to modernize the Adult Protective Services program and to create a useful "vulnerable adult" restraining order. In collaboration with experts around the state, recommendations regarding best practices for preventing and responding to abuse in facility settings were created and submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. In addition, WCASA participated in a committee that created protocols for dealing with abuse by noncaregivers in facility settings, taking into account issues of self-determination versus protection.

A major component of the Disability and Aging Program is providing technical assistance and training to any person or organization that requests it. WCASA trainings have reached a wide variety of audiences including sexual assault service provider agencies, coordinated community response teams, medical staff, Adult Protective Services personnel, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and other people in the disability/aging network. These trainings have ranged from providing general information on sexual assault and people with disabilities or older adults to much more specific trainings (e.g., looking at how policies and laws affect sexual assault victims who are older or who have disabilities). WCASA staff have also provided training on other topics such as abuse against people with physical disabilities on campus, healthy sexuality and sexual assault prevention for people with cognitive disabilities, sexual assault and sexuality issues for people with Alzheimer's disease or related dementia, and sexual assault and people with mental illness.

WCASA is the lead agency on a training grant to stop abuse and sexual assault against older individuals. This grant, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, focuses on training law enforcement to improve its investigation and interviewing strategies in cases involving older victims of sexual or domestic violence. A model protocol for law enforcement was drafted to accompany several regional trainings. WCASA trained a range of service providers in six regions around the state, including—

  • Coordinated community response teams.
  • Elder abuse interdisciplinary teams.
  • Government-based victim witness staff.

Lessons Learned
WCASA had a difficult time improving accessibility within service provider agencies. In hindsight, survivors' voices need to be included from the start. In the planning stages, WCASA drew from information from service providers and the literature rather than from the voices of survivors with disabilities.

Collaboration has not been without conflict. However, by keeping victims' safety as the primary focus, being open to multiple possibilities, and trying to take a multidimensional view of each other's perspectives, the conflicts diminished.

Despite the challenges, there have been successes. One important achievement has been a collaborative effort that resulted in changed policies and laws that better serve older victims and victims with disabilities. Another major accomplishment includes community-based organizations' efforts to initiate prevention and education efforts within their existing budgets.

Evaluation Efforts
Feedback from trainings has been overwhelmingly positive, which should open more doors.

Contact Information
Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Disabilities and Aging Program
600 Williamson Street, Suite N–2
Madison, WI 53703