Even knowing the statistics and risk factors, sometimes the stories of abuse and neglect among the developmentally challenged children and adults are heartbreaking.
Developmentally challenged people are at four to ten times the risk of emotional, physical, and mental neglect and abuse than the general population. In some parts of the world, neglect and abuse may be the result of ignorance and superstition. But within the US, the vast majority of abuse is done by people close to the disabled person for longer periods of time than with others.
Two instances today reflect the atrocities that happen. In one, an Arizona non-verbal, physically impaired, and mentally challenged 29 year old woman gave birth to a boy child in an institution. Her caregivers and the rest of the institutional staff were shocked. They had no idea she was pregnant. Worse, it was clear she had been pregnant before although there is no idea what happened to that child.
DNA tests revealed she impregnated by Nathan Sutherland, one of her caregivers. At Hacienda Healthcare, this poor woman had been examined 83 times before the birth and no one detected the pregnancy, even as her body displayed all the symptoms and signs. This woman had been in long-term care since she was three. Her rape was violent and frequent.
Although Sutherland perpetrated the crimes, the staff was liable for not recognizing an obvious condition, particularly in the later stages. A GI exam revealed she had given birth. In check of her bed, the child was found. A $45 million dollar suit has been filed by her parents against Hacienda Healthcare and the State of Arizona. The child is being cared for by the woman’s family.
In today’s second report, Vernon Gray, a mentally impaired man with an IQ of 60, was lovingly cared for by his parents in their Seattle Central District home until their deaths in 2000. His mother died last, and Vernon didn’t know what to do with the body so he lived with it for several days until it was found.
Not knowing how to care for himself, the home became infested by about 500 rats. He didn’t know about bills, so the plumbing and electricity were turned off for a decade. Neighbors supplied food when they could but even so, he was reduced to dumper diving. The home became infested with garbage and feces.
Eventually the house was sold due to lack of paying property taxes. His parent had saved tens of thousands of dollars and rare coins, storing the funds in a suitcase in the basement which disappeared when the house was cleaned up for sale. Nathan lived on the street, not even knowing to go to a shelter.
At one point, a Social Worker reported that upon examining Vernon, she concluded he was not developmentally disabled and the case was closed. In 2017, the Police intervened after Vernon was discovered walking through traffic for the second time. He was unclean, covered in lice, and nearly blind with glaucoma. He was placed in a group home. His ad litem is seeking to buy Vernon’s home back from he present owners and getting round the clock caregivers so he can live his life cared for in the only home he knew.
Ninety seven to 99 percent of abusers to the developmentally challenged are people who are known to the person, whether family, friends, or caregivers. They are abused more frequently and for longer periods of time. They are four to ten times more likely to be abused than their peers. Seeking justice is something that doesn’t usually happen.
Disability/justice.org reports these individuals are less likely to get help for several reasons:
*They may be afraid they will not be believed, their self- esteem is very low due to the abuse
*It is easier to abuse a person if he is believed to be sub-human or less than the abuser T
*The abused live in isolated environments, in institutions, group homes, or personal homes where they still have limited contact with the outside world
*Abusers may perceive a person with disabilities as weak, vulnerable and less likely to report abuse
*The people caring for the person are often a small group of friends or caregivers providing essential care for basic activities of daily living
*People with limited abilities may find it difficult to report abuse
These two stories are perfect examples of the atrocities which face many innocent individuals who require on-going care and are not able to defend themselves against others and a system that often passes the buck, shuts down social service cases prematurely, and avoids having to deal with sensitive cases. This is an ongoing issue in our times and historically which demands our observance and action. We owe it to those unable to act for themselves.