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Preventing Domestic Violence Among People with Disabilities

Session 1

What is Abuse?

Samantha Thomas, Outreach Coordinator for the Domestic Violence Initiative (DVI) will provide information and tools for self-sufficiency that supports safe and fulfilling lives free of violence and abuse. 

For over 25 years, DVI has been in existence as a non-profit agency dedicated to the survival and safety of Colorado’s men and women with disabilities and their children who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, caregiver abuse, and stalking. 

In addition, Erica L. Olsen, MSW., Housing and Technology Safety Specialist of The National Network to End Domestic Violence, will share information about her organization. Erica has been focusing on women and social change for over nine years, working to end domestic violence at the local and state level. 


Session 2

How to overcome barriers to support and assistance - the first steps to reaching out

Lynn Kelly will cover "The first steps to reaching out." She will also discuss and identify the systemic/organizational and personal barriers survivors with disabilities face.

Lynn Kelly is the Coordinator of Professional Training for Women Aware, the leading comprehensive domestic violence agency in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Lynn has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and has worked in the field of domestic violence for ten years. She is passionate about bringing awareness of the implications of domestic violence to the community, especially to youth.

Session 3

Preventing Domestic Violence Among People with Disabilities

Safety Planning for Survivors will include such topics as: prevalence, disability specific abuse, system and cultural barriers, risks of leaving and safety plan elements.

Sara Zesski, Project Coordinator at the New Coalition for Battered Women (NJCBW), manages such projects as "No Wrong Door NJ" and the expansion of their project "Peace: A Learned Solution."

Zesski is involved with the NJCBW’s Cultural Competency Committee, the Internal Anti-Racism Workgroup, and the White Aspiring Allies to People of Color Caucus.

Also during this session, Erica L. Olsen, MSW., Housing & Technology Safety Specialist at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), will discuss her organization and the services they provide. NNEDV is a social change organization dedicated to creating a social, political and economic environment in which violence against women no longer exists.

Session 4

General discussion about legal options for domestic violence victims

Certain abusive behaviors are against the law and can be pursued civilly and/or criminally. Information on options of filing for a civil restraining order and enforcement of orders will be discussed in this session. 
Please note that this speaker will not provide legal advice regarding individuals' specific situations but rather, she will talk about possible options in general that can be considered with an attorney.

Stacey Sarver, Esq. is the legal director of, a project of the National Network To End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and is the senior attorney for NNEDV. Prior to joining in 2007, Ms. Sarver worked at a non-profit organization in NYC, representing low-income domestic violence victims in family court. She graduated cum laude from Fordham Law School in 2003.

Session 5

Medical-Legal Partnerships and Domestic Violence

Ben Beck-Coon will discuss the goals, objectives, and core components of medical-legal partnerships in the context of addressing domestic violence against individuals with disabilities from a holistic, team-based perspective. 

Ben Beck-Coon is a staff attorney at the Legal Clinic for the Disabled in Philadelphia, where he focuses his practice on medical-legal partnerships (MLP) and legal issues affecting individuals with disabilities, including domestic violence.

Following this, Dr. Will Marling, Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), will speak about his organization. Dr. Marling was trained by NOVA and brought that added dimension of development to his skill set and experience base in responding to people in crisis.

Session 6

Boundaries Between You and Others

Cema Mastroleo, Disability Services Manager at SafePlace, will define boundaries within the context of healthy and safe relationships. Participants in this session will be encouraged to think about their own boundaries, as well as ways to set and maintain them. The discussion will also include learning about - and respecting - other peoples' boundaries.

Cema Mastroleo earned a Masters of Education from the University of Texas at Austin. She has 14 years experience providing personal safety, healthy relationship and sexuality education to people with disabilities. Additionally, Cema coordinates training programs on disability awareness and accessibility for the Criminal Justice System and provides training to Adult Protective Services.

Following this, Nora Baladerian, Ph.D., will discuss the Disability and Abuse Project, an organization that works to reduce the risk of abuse, promotes healing for victims and seeks justice for those who have been victimized. As Executive Director, Dr. Baladerian was recognized for her work when she was awarded the National Crime Victims Services Award in 2008 by Attorney General Michael Muckasey.

Dr. Baladerian is a psychologist in Los Angeles, CA. She has a private practice where she treats crime victims with disabilities, and a forensic practice in which she assists with cases nationally involving individuals with cognitive and/or communication disabilities.

Session 7

Ways Domestic Violence Manifests in the Lives of People with Disabilities

Sandra Harrell of VERA; Institute for Justice, will discuss how domestic violence manifests in the lives of people with disabilities, including unique perpetrator tactics, dynamics, barriers to support, and unique manifestations of violence.

Sandra Harrell directs a national technical assistance initiative focused on improving the accessibility and responsiveness of systems supporting people with disabilities who experience domestic or sexual violence.

Session 8

Elder Abuse

The dynamics of abuse in later life – how to recognize it and how to respond - will be addressed in this session.

Bonnie Brandl, MSW, is the Director of the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), a project of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WCADV). Brandl has worked in the battered women’s movement for over 25 years and is a nationally recognized author, trainer and expert on abuse in later life. 

Following this, a brief presentation will be offered by Jennifer Braude, Victim Advocate at the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE). Ms. Braude will discuss her organization and its work to improve the well being, rights and autonomy of older persons through advocacy, education, and action.

Session 9

Maintaining Healthy Lives for Women with Disabilities

Women with disabilities understand their health needs better than anyone else. So why aren’t they full and equal participants in all health and development programs? In this session we will learn how disabled women from all over the world collaborated to develop a tool that enabled them to better advocate for their health needs.

Women's Health Editor at Hesperian Health Guides, Jane Maxwell, holds a Master’s degree in public health, has additional graduate training in anthropology and journalism, and has worked in community-based health care settings in Mexico, Nepal, several countries in Africa, and with under-served urban communities in the US.

Maxwell is the author of "A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities." Developed with the participation of women with disabilities in 42 countries, this guide helps women to overcome the barriers of social stigma and inadequate care to improve their general health, self-esteem, and independence as active members of their communities.

Session 10

Self Love

Lauren Ruotolo, Director of Entertainment Promotions at Hearst Magazines and author of "Unstoppable in Stilettos" will discuss the importance of self love and self value. 

In Lauren Ruotolo's first-person essay, "Get Shorty," she shared her philosophies on living with the rare genetic disorder McCune-Albright Syndrome. The essay was published in Marie Claire magazine in 2009, and was one of the most responded to articles in Marie Claire's history. Recently, Lauren published her first book titled “Unstoppable in Stilettos—A Girl's Guide to Living Tall in a Small World.” In this book Ruotolo discusses her struggles and achievements growing up as a disabled person. She offers her advice on life - and ways to achieve everything you want even when life throw’s you some lemons.

Session 11

Screening for Domestic Violence

Dr. Sara Plummer will discuss the history, prevalence, risk factors and types of abuse among people with disabilities. She will also discuss the need for - and importance of - screenings.

Sara Plummer, Ph.D., M.S.W., is a Project Coordinator and Instructor at the Center on Violence against Women and Children (VAWC) in the School of Social Work at Rutgers University. Her past experience includes serving as both a Social Worker and an Assistant Director at Barrier Free Living, Inc. She has presented to multiple social service agencies, law enforcement personnel, and medical professionals on the prevalence of abuse among individuals with disabilities.

Session 12

What Research Tells Us About the Abuse of Persons with Disabilties

Dan L. Petersen, Ph.D., will provide an overview of the research related to the victimization of persons with disabilities. His presentation will help to explain the needs, vulnerabilities, and barriers that face crime victims with disabilities and how empirical research is helping us to understand and hopefully respond in more proactive and sensitive ways.

Dan L. Petersen, Ph.D. is an Associate Dean and Professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is an Executive Board member for the Joint Center on Violence and Victim Studies and an Executive Board Member for the American Society of Victimology.

Dr. Petersen has worked in the field of victim/survivor services for over twenty years. He has been involved with numerous grant programs and has presented nationally on topics focused on improving services to crime victims with disabilities.

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