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Behind the Scenes

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The Natalie Project (#ustoo) was started by Julie Payne-Neward, Natalie’s older sister, in 2021 to champion healing and systemic change for families, with an intellectual or developmentally disabled loved one, experiencing the trauma of sexual abuse.

In early 2012, Natalie’s behavior changed. She was not sleeping, her body’s functions changed and she was constantly moaning- her primary way of communicating imminent wants and needs. In April, Julie received the call that Natalie was diagnosed with a devastating communicable disease; she can not consent to intimacy. For month’s prior her medical team diagnosed her with common female ailments.

Our family never thought she would be violated. Upon learning of her victimization, the hospital nor the Regional Center filed the lawful mandatory report. Community Licensing was never triggered to investigate the facility. Julie called the police, and they quickly investigated. The report is still open. The facility quickly settled and told us to “hush” in exchange for an amount that is now long gone. The system is the same. 


I saw our mother sacrifice everything for my sister’s safety. We quickly took Natalie out of the  daily outside caregiving program and my mother and younger sister assumed her care 24/7 for four years straight. Our family even had an Administrative Hearing with a judge to get approval of our younger sister being Natalie’s respite caregiver. 

The perpetrator stripped our mother  and sister of their respite time. They preyed upon a family that has overcome major life challenges and then thickly layered on fear, hopelessness, and defeat with the assault.  What we needed was assurance that the support system cared enough to help us manage the trauma and address the problem on a case and systemic level. We needed to speak-up and out, instead of being forced to sign a ‘secret settlement’ which prevented us from finding reprieve. 

Our mother and I never dreamed that Natalie would be a survivor, and I never knew how prevalent abuse was until NPR's series, “Abused and Betrayed”.

Individuals & families need to know the prevalence of abuse, what the signs are and have a plan for before, during discovery and after. Families need to understand how the system works and where we need to advocate for further transparency and accountability. 

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