Diminished Mental Capacity Creates Sexual Assault Risk For Some Adults

Idaho police investigated and arrested a man after the father of a vulnerable adult victim informed them of a sexual assault.

The perpetrator contacted the victim by phone and requested the victim come to his apartment. According to reports, the victim has the mental capacity of a child between the ages of three and six, is easily manipulated, and cannot recognize malicious intent in others.

When interviewed, the victim told police did not consent to the sexual acts, and stated they caused physical pain. A medical examination found evidence consistent with rape and confirmed the victim's pain and medical issues.

The accused faces a prison sentence of 15 years to life. Johnathan Hogan "Rigby man arrested for reportedly raping mentally disabled person multiple times" www.postregister.com (Apr. 06, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

Individuals with developmental disabilities face a greater risk of abuse, particularly long-term abuse, and are less likely to utilize the justice system.

As in the above case, a victim’s limited cognitive function leaves them vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. They do not recognize the perpetrator’s conduct as abuse and may even have communication limitations that hinder their ability to report an incident of abuse. Fortunately, the victim’s father in this case was alert to the possibility of abuse and correctly notified local authorities. His actions prevented the kind of long-term abuse that is common in such situations.

Those who regularly interact either personally or professionally with individuals with developmental disabilities need to stay alert to the possibility of abuse. Those with influence should seek out resources that can guide them in discussing with the individual about sexual misconduct, making sure they understand their right to refuse unwanted contact. Often, such a discussion will result in the disclosure of past, or even present-day, sexual abuse. It is important to engage in this discussion on a regular basis to provide continued protection.

Parents, guardians, and safe adults should immediately report suspected abuse to local law enforcement.

Being able to recognize possible signs of abuse can help prevent it. Here are some signs that an individual with intellectual disabilities may be experiencing sexual abuse:

  • Changes in mood, conduct or communication
  • Withdrawal
  • Disruptions in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Display of increased sexualized conduct
  • Gain or loss of weight
  • Indications of sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Acting out upon others what was done to him or her and
  • Onset of new fears or phobias.
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