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The idea intellectually impaired people feel less trauma is a myth

At the Central Criminal Courts yesterday, a man is jailed for 20 years for raping his intellectually impaired son and using him in pornography for internet circulation. With the judge, Mr Justice Hunt saying, ”it was perhaps fortunate for him that he didn’t understand what happened to him”.

I am hoping Mr Justice Hunt is not trying to also say, “so will not be harmed by it”.

Many young children with no intellectual impairment do not ‘understand’ what happened to them during sexual violation. They are, however, very seriously harmed by it. This is no less true for a person with intellectual impairment. Indeed, it is the case in not being able to process their experience, due to intellectual incapacity, they are even more traumatised.

In this respect, perhaps the penal sentence should have been longer.

Recently, in two cases, we learned intellectually impaired young people were not removed from foster care where the carer’s had abused, whilst other children had. This action is probably based on the erroneous assumption being intellectually impaired the abuse would not be so harmful!

Or indeed , because they didn’t ‘understand’ it then they could be left at risk in unsuitable foster care.

The idea that intellectually impaired individuals feel LESS trauma or harm because they ‘don’t understand it’ is a continuing myth in child protection.

In fact, sex offenders target such children with their risk factor alarmingly much higher than non-disabled children. Research shows 50% of learning disabled children are abused when compared to non-disabled children which stands at 25%..

It behoves our justice system to fully appreciate the vulnerability and the trauma those with intellectual impairment experience at the hands of sex offenders.

Those with learning difficulties are fully feeling, human individuals and sexual violation is a terrifying experience for them. The sentencing of offenders should reflect this.

Dr Margaret Kennedy PhD, Specialist in disability and abuse

28 St Crispins

Redford Park


Co Wicklow


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