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Once again, a case of sexual abuse of disabled persons by a caretaker, is in the news. Wayne Albert Bleyle, pleaded guilty in San Diego, of molesting brain damaged children at Rady’s Children’s Hospital, where he had worked as a respiratory therapist. Bleyle had been charged in early 2006, and has been in jail since, on $5 million bail. The prosecutor, Laura Gunn, described the case as ‘one of the worst child molestation situations imaginable.” Undoubtedly true, but the sad fact is that sexual abuse of people with disabilities, by caretakers, is not rare.

Last year, the Seattle Times, had a chilling article on multiple episodes of sexual abuse in nursing homes. There is no ready solution for this problem. Deeper background probes of job applicants, might be a start, but in many states, civil liberties activists, lobby for reduced ability to learn of a job applicant’s mental health or criminal history. If a patient or resident has the ability to claim they were abused, that complaint must be taken seriously and investigated, even if the individual is severely handicapped.

In Seattle, authorities did not investigate many claims because the individual making them, had serious mental disabilities – circular reasoning, since the disability is what made the victim vulnerable to being sexually abused. The administrators of any facility treating people with severe disabilities, must be highly vigilant for signs that an employee might be harming patients. When a perpetrator is discovered and proven guilty, punishment may be sufficiently severe to fit the crime. Many of these predators, however, are never caught.

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