The Silent Population: Abuse of the Intellectually Disabled

How many of you are aware of the different types of abuse that occur every day? We all have probably witnessed or have been confided in by victims of different types of assault at least once. However, if you go into a room with 100 people and ask how many of them are aware of abuse to persons with intellectual disabilities, the number would be less than ten. And what does this tell us?

We Contribute to the Abuse of the Intellectually Disabled

If you talk to investigators and researchers, they would tell you that the number of violated individuals with intellectual disabilities is at least thrice as much as the number of assault victims without disabilities.

This accounts for several factors. Most abusers think that individuals with mental health issues do not have the ability to tell and if ever, they wouldn’t be believed in. Thus, the abuse occurs repeatedly and to a wider extent. What is even more alarming is the reality that the abusers of these individuals are mostly the people they trust in, like family or caregivers. The abuse often happens because victims have the overt need to follow orders due to the authority they associate with the abuser, aggravated by their inability to assess motives.

Moreover, some mental conditions may even prevent the victims to realize that they are being abused. Usually, this is not due to the mental disorders per se, but due to how parents treat the condition. Parents are afraid to introduce sexuality to these individuals in fear that they might not understand. Studies show that these persons are either child-like or overly-sexed. Furthermore, due to their innocence to their sexuality, they had been more vulnerable to assault. In addition, they often do not have the ability to speak for themselves.

Intellectual Disabilities: Law and Psychiatry

If you look at history, individuals with mental challenges were ruled to not be part of society as they were deemed unable to function well. This means that they did not have equal civil rights and responsibilities. As such, they were given guardians who could work for them. But this has changed in the late 19th century when different countries restated them as part of society. However, we cannot deny that there are many instances when an intellectually-disabled person is part of a crime as either a victim, the abuser, or as a witness.

Now, considering their psychiatric conditions. Laws anywhere found it conflicting to call them to testify, especially if they were diagnosed with a reduced ability to make clear judgments. Although there had been conditions set with the collaboration of law enforcers and psychiatrists to draw the line between the testifiable and not, one major problem psychiatrists face is how they can actually tell when a person is narrating a real incident and not just something imaginary dictated by their mental condition. Under the three states of narration, as the witness, as the abuser, or as the victim, the latter poses as the most worrisome position. Thus, it’s usually ignored.

The Real Question about Abuse and Intellectual Disabilities

If expert opinions and observations tell us that anything a mentally-ill person says might be delusional, how do we defend them? Recent statistics show that they are the most abused population, yet they are the most silent.

Going through different kinds of literature on this issue will tell us one thing: the laws and the guidelines are still vague. However, in order to assess whether an activity is consensual or an assault, there are six tests that can be employed: “nature and consequences,” “morality,” “nature of the conduct,” “totality of the circumstances,” “evidence of mental disability,” and “judgment.” These tests may be too technical for most of us, but in order to better protect this population, we need to tap the potential of medical professionals and parents or guardians to look out for signs of abuse. And when the signs appear, the attention of medical practitioners must be called at once for any physical check up to validate such claims.

Given this condition, the bigger chance of being listened to, especially in court and in mitigating abuse, lie with a patient’s long-term physician. They are considered the pillars for such conditions because they are the ones with the ability to fully document physical signs of abuse and to provide proof of consistency and of the mental competency to testify.

Simply, those involved in a patient’s primary care must be fully aware of the different signs of abuse to put a stop to it.

About Patricia Abrihan

Patricia has always been inspired by the witty yet innocent voice of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that she believes that writing is able to revolutionize ideas of society. She is a former college instructor from the Philippines and is currently a freelance writer and blogger managing her portfolio. She is open to collaboration and also loves reading and watching movies.

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