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'In Jennifer's Room' tells chilling story of abuse while protecting family's privacy

“I feel bad for the people who have no one to fight for them. There are a lot of them; they don't have any family. I told them when we were (there), 'You know, I was a hands-on mom, and I fought you for my daughter's security, and I still wasn't able to protect her.'”

These are the words of the mother of Jennifer, an intellectually disabled patient at the Sonoma Developmental Center. In 2006, Jennifer accused a caretaker of physical and sexual abuse. Little was done, and her case was shelved.

Less than a year later, Jennifer’s family discovered that she was pregnant. Records show that the staff at the Sonoma center ignored or overlooked her condition, even after she visited a gynecologist at the facility while several months pregnant.

How could this have happened? Patients like Jennifer, who live at one of California's five board-and-care facilities for the disabled, have accused caretakers and other employees of rape and molestation 36 times since 2009. In that time, investigations have yielded just one arrest.

Reporter Ryan Gabrielson's latest investigation revealed that the Office of Protective Services, the police force in charge of protecting this vulnerable population of 1,600 patients statewide, failed to order a single nurse-supervised rape examination for any of the alleged victims since 2009.

Telling these kinds of stories is critical for raising awareness. But care must be taken to protect the victims, who have largely remained anonymous in this investigation to protect their privacy. This creates a unique challenge – how do we protect the identities of the victims and their families while ensuring that their words and experiences create maximum impact? The need to respect the family's privacy competes with the need to spread the information far and wide.

Our solution? This graphic novel-style video, directed and produced by senior multimedia producer Carrie Ching. The illustrations mask the identity of the family, and a CIR staff member served as a voice actor for Jennifer's mother. The result is a chilling portrait of life in the Sonoma Developmental Center for one young woman and the struggles she and her family faced when confronted with the nightmare of rape.


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