EDITORIAL: Protect the mentally challenged

Today we have a story headlined “Man rapes mentally challenged minor”. Although this story is still subjudice, this is not the first such case at the courts and many of them are sad and disheartening.

People should know that mentally challenged people – no matter how old they are – cannot make decisions on sexual matters.

To be mentally challenged means one cannot reason like an adult – even if their age suggests that they are adults.

People who take advantage of this unfortunate state of mind and force mentally challenged people into sexual intercourse must be discouraged from this practice by whatever means possible.

If it means there are deterrent sentences that are imposed upon such abusers to stop them from their inhuman treatment of disadvantaged members of the society, then so be it.


The sexual abuse of people with developmental disabilities is unusually common because of the greater risk of victimisation of such people, and often goes unreported. Most of the time, the perpetrators are authority figures in the victim’s life. The developmentally disabled are more prone to such abuse due to reliance on a caregiver, emotional and social insecurities, and a lack of understanding surrounding the situation.

Research suggests that 97 to 99 percent of abusers are known and trusted by the victim who has the developmental disability.

It is very easy for people who have authority over a mentally disabled person to order them to do things as developmentally disabled people are mentally depended on their care givers and the people they live around.

Most abusers assume the mentally challenged will not report the abuse and – more often than not – they are right.

Usually, the person being abused may not realize that sexual abuse can harm them or that violence perpetrated against them is a crime and some individuals with disabilities may not be able to tell anyone that they were sexually abused. Typically, people with disabilities learn not to question caregivers or others in authority. It is the authority figures that are often committing the abuse.

That is why something needs to be done, as a matter of urgency, to detract would-be offenders against ill-treating or abusing mentally challenged people.

People should just have a conscience and those that act like they do not have one should be used as examples before the nation is tainted by their heinous acts.

Studies carried in the US suggest that 68 percent of girls with developmental disabilities and 30 percent of boys with developmental disabilities will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. According to research 15,000 to 19,000 people with developmental disabilities are raped each year in the United States and – if nothing is done sooner rather than later – Zimbabwe will soon have equally frightening statistics.

In Canada 40 percent of women with disabilities have been assaulted or raped, 54 percent of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused, 50 percent of girls who are deaf have been sexually abused, 68 percent of psychiatric outpatients have been physically or sexually abused, 81 percent of psychiatric inpatients have been physically or sexually abused, 56 percent of those who were admitted to a hospital-based unit for people with intellectual disabilities received anti-psychotic drugs without a diagnosis of psychosis or related disorder and 41 percent of nurses and nurses aids in intermediate care facilities who were interviewed admitted to engaging in physical abuse of the people they care for.

These are all sad and scary facts and they are proof that – wherever you find people with mental disabilities – extra care and monitoring must be taken to avoid making them victims of sexual and or physical abuse.