The family of a woman with a severe disability filed a lawsuit this week against a Florida health care center after she was raped and impregnated early last year while in the care of the facility.
The victim is a 23-year-old “non-verbal” and “immobile” woman with “profound mental retardation,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday and obtained by HuffPost. The woman had been in the care of Pensacola Cluster, a health care center in Pensacola, Florida, for about eight years before she was raped and impregnated. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case last year but said in a statement Thursday that the department couldn’t identify a suspect and had exhausted all leads.
The woman lived at and received 24-hour care from Pensacola Cluster outside of the time she spent at the Escambia Westgate School for intellectually and physically impaired adults in Pensacola. According to the complaint, the family of the victim believes she was sexually assaulted while in the care of Pensacola Cluster.
At the end of January 2018, Escambia Westgate employees noticed that the woman had physical injuries, including bruising on her hip, while they were changing her diaper. Despite repeated calls and emails from Westgate employees, caregivers at Pensacola Cluster didn’t seek medical care for her injuries until Feb. 6, 2018. X-rays revealed that her hip was broken, and she needed immediate surgery to repair it.
After surgery, a rape kit exam was performed on her, and it revealed “significant bruising on her outer hip, left inner thigh and left calf,” according to the complaint. The exam confirmed that the woman had been raped at least once and was pregnant. She later miscarried.
The suit states that the woman is “physically incapable” of causing such injury to herself and that because of her disabilities, she is “unable to knowingly and voluntarily give consent to sexual intercourse.”
The lawsuit names Pensacola Cluster and its parent company, National Mentor Healthcare, as defendants. Additionally, the suit names three caregivers who allegedly delayed reporting the victim’s injuries to any physician or Florida’s Adult Abuse Hotline. Her family is seeking damages for the medical costs from her rape and pregnancy, as well as damages for the emotional and physical distress she has experienced.
Florida MENTOR, the organization that’s part of National Mentor Healthcare and oversees Pensacola Cluster, responded to the lawsuit in a statement to HuffPost on Friday afternoon.
“There are a lot of facts about this case that are unknown, and we have and will continue to assist law enforcement in any way we can,” the spokeswoman said in part. “We are always profoundly saddened that anyone could cause harm to an individual with disabilities. In any instance of abuse, we hope the perpetrator is prosecuted and held accountable.”
Since the rape, the woman’s behavior has reportedly changed, including “crying and apparent nightmares,” as well as undergoing “severe emotional distress, pain and suffering,” according to the complaint. Her mother transferred her to a different facility once it was revealed she was assaulted.
HuffPost has redacted the name of the victim throughout the lawsuit, published in full below. (Story continues below.)
The family’s attorney, Jim Green, commented on the lawsuit in a statement to HuffPost on Friday morning.
“Our client’s mother is outraged and devastated by what happened to her daughter, and wants to protect her daughter from abuse and for her daughter to be safe,” he said.
“We are seeking justice for our client,” Green added. “We will find out how this was allowed to happen, and we will do everything we can to make sure it never happens again to our client or anyone else.”
The Escambia County’s Sheriff Department said in its statement that law enforcement was unable to find foreign DNA through the woman’s rape kit exam.
“Every available investigative technique was utilized to capture evidence from the pregnancy, which could be analyzed, to link to a suspect, but it all returned negative for foreign DNA,” the statement reads. “After an extensive review and consultation with the state attorney and DCF we are confident that all investigative leads have been exhausted.”
Just weeks ago, a similar case came to light in Phoenix. A woman who has been in a vegetative state for over a decade was raped and gave birth in December while in the care of a nursing facility, Hacienda Healthcare. The longtime CEO of the facility resigned, and it is under investigation by law enforcement.
This article has been updated to include comments to HuffPost from the family’s attorney and Florida MENTOR.
David Lohr contributed reporting.