Population considerations

  • Learning capabilities. Individuals who are mentally or developmentally challenged have different learning capabilities than the general public. They may need alternative learning strategies (Muccigrosso, 1991).
  • Communication barriers. Mentally and/or developmentally challenged individuals may not have the ability to properly communicate that they have been abused. Poor ability to communicate puts pressure on service providers to have the ability to detect abuse (Sobsey, 1990).
  • Ability to identify abusive situations. Mentally challenged individuals are often taught stranger safety. In sexual assault incidents in which the victim is mentally challenged, rarely is the abuser a stranger. Most often it is someone whom the victim trusts (Lumley, 1997). This makes it difficult for the person to recognize that they may be in danger.

  Strategies to address these considerations

  • Incorporate group therapy. Group therapy that focuses on psychotherapeutic methods such as shared experiences of similar individuals allows individuals to express their emotions comfortably and helps balance their feelings of loneliness (Tharinger, 1990).
  • Improve communication. Modifications of current successful interventions that use “mental” age-appropriate rather than biological age-appropriate levels of communication will allow mentally challenged individuals a better understanding of sexual assault prevention. For example, in an intervention for mentally challenged adults, the initial step may be education about the proper terms for body parts.
  • Tailor screening methods. Screening methods may need to be tailored to meet the communication and cognitive needs of disabled individuals.

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