Sexual Abuse

Abuse is a violation of an individual’s human and civil rights by any other person. There are many different ways vulnerable people can be abused. These include:

  • Physical abuse: hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, misuse of medication or inappropriate restraint.
  • Psychological abuse: emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, or isolation.
  • Financial or material abuse: theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.
  • Neglect and acts of omission: ignoring medical or physical care needs, failure to provide appropriate health, social or educational services, withholding the necessities of life, such as medication, nutrition and heating.

And there is Sexual Abuse which includes rape and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the vulnerable adult has not consented, or could not consent or was pressured into consenting.

You have no doubt read news reports where caregivers for adults with cognitive impairment have sexually assaulted them. Or stories of how vulnerable teens and adults are lured into dangerous liaisons with predators. These stories scare the HELL out of me! Intellectually I know that these things can happen, but I try to convince myself that those instances are few and far between.

But a quick Google search on the Internet produces MANY cases, showing that these assaults are more common than we think. Here are a few examples:

Three former high school football players were convicted on charges of sexually assaulting a mentally impaired friend with a baseball bat and broom handle after enticing her into a basement with the promise of a date.

Annette did now know the word “rape”. So when this 41-year-old woman with an IQ of 63 was driven home by a co-worker, she was not sure what was happening when he pulled his car into a vacant lot, forcibly removed her clothes and had sexual intercourse with her. She came home, cried all night, saying nothing to her parents.

A Texas man was arrested at a park after police found him with a naked 18-year-old mentally disabled girl. The victim told officers the man coerced her into leaving her home, took her to the park, undressed and sexually assaulted twice.

These are just a couple of the many, many stories reporting these heineous crimes. I won’t torture you with anymore. But it should also be recognized that unfortunately, the perpetrator is sometimes the adult with the disability …

Attorneys and advocates are questioning why an 18-year-old East Texan with profound mental disabilities was sentenced to 100 years in prison in a child sex abuse case. The man was found fondling a six year old boy. He pleaded guilty to five counts. The man has an IQ of 47 and never learned to read or write. Despite being a target of bullies, he was courteous, well-behaved and earned money by doing chores for neighbors, supporters said. His parents say he’d never acted out sexually. He is serving his sentence in a special Texas prison that houses over 1000 inmates with mental issues.

As a parent or caregiver, what is our responsibility with regards to protecting them from abuse? Here are some tips that you might consider:

Recognize Potential Predators. There is no easy way to spot someone who seeks to abuse the disabled. Often it is a person in a position of authority or someone who the victim trusts. This could be anyone ranging from professional staff, care workers, volunteers, neighbors, or even relatives and family members. Stay alert.

Encourage Communication. Talk. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication. Ask about their day at work or their date. Watch for non-verbal cues (avoiding eye contact, squirming). You can get a sense of whether you are getting the whole story. Still feel uneasy? Talk some more.

Educate and Empower. Encourage and reinforce the education and training that is provided in school. Don’t be embarrassed to bring up sensitive subjects. Your willingness to speak openly empowers the child or adult to speak openly as well. Remember that these individuals often follow our example.

Buddy System. We can’t accompany our children or young adults everywhere they go. They seek independence. Consider the Buddy System. Have them bring a friend along to events where you suspect they might be vulnerable.

I’m sure there are many more ideas that can help you to keep those you love safe from predators. Their safety begins and ends with your diligence and attention to the risks. Keep them safe and sound.


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