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Ken Margolin
Ken Margolin
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Staff Abuse of Clients with Developmental Disabilities

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It’s not often discussed outside of professional settings, but the issue of sexuality and developmental disability, poses ethical dilemmas. In fact, a book on the subject, bears that exact title: Ethical Dilemmas: Sexuality and Developmental Disability, Dorothy M. Griffiths, Ph.D., et al., ed., NAAD Press, Kingston, NY 2002. Professionals who work with individuals with developmental disabilities, have worked for years, to establish the recognition that people with developmental disabilities, even severe disabilities, have sexuality like the rest of us, and the right to sexual contact.

In addition to obvious issues, such as birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, recognizing the sexuality of people with developmental disabilities, requires defining the dividing line between consensual sexual relations, and sexual abuse. The issue is a critical one. A study in the journal, Sexuality and Disability, reported that between 80 – 95% of persons with developmental disabilities are sexually abused at some point in their lives, and that over 90% of the perpetrators, are caregivers. While the origin and accuracy of the statistics may be questioned, there is undeniably a problem.

There are no clearcut answers for every situation, but sexual relations between a staff person caring for the person with developmental disabilities, and the disabled person, should uniformly be considered abusive. The staff person’s job is to educate, care, and protect their client. Sexual contact has no place in the relationship. There is no single, degree, or certification, for people who care for persons with developmental disabilities. In many group homes, for example, caretakers may be hourly employees without advanced degrees. Legislation may be an answer, making sexual contact between a caretaker and person with developmental disabilities, as clearly impermissible as it is for a psychiatrist and his patient. In the meantime, as I have reported on this site before, juries have been appropriately punishing of perpetrators, in their verdicts on behalf of developmentally disabled people abused by their caretakers.