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My Abuser Was Disabled

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From a teen in the U.S.: My abuse all took place when I was a child. My adopted aunt I’m pretty sure has an intellectual disability. Nobody ever told me what it was. She always wanted to play dolls in her room to fuel her romantic and sexual fantasies. I only remember one night that she made me touch her, but I think my mind wiped out the actual act of doing it. So, I’m lead to wonder if it happened more times than that because I remember not being surprised and just hoping someone would catch her and save me. Nobody found out, to my knowledge. I would always tell my parents that I didn’t want to be isolated with her when we went to visit my grandparents because I wanted to spend time with them. I was always made to feel selfish for that and I think it developed some problem that I have lots of difficulty expressing my discomfort and talking about my mental issues. But, I can’t help but feel like I have no right to call myself a victim.

The thought that she should get off the hook for the permanent problems she has caused me infuriates me. I don’t know how to feel about it.
This also caused an issue a bit more down the line when I met a girl the same age as I was. She would often inappropriately touch me. I think now that she may have been abused by her father. I forgive her more than my aunt. I just can’t help but feel like I’m in the wrong for blaming these people for this.

I would bring it up to my therapist, but to be honest I have met people who have told me that their therapists have told their parents their secrets against their wishes. I’m not financially independent, so I will not trust this therapist. I just want someone else to tell me what they think about this.

My Abuser Was Disabled

Answered by on -


First things first: If you are concerned that your therapist will tell your parents what you talk about in therapy, your therapy will be severely handicapped. The therapeutic relationship is grounded in trust. Without trust, you can’t talk about the things that most concern you. Please talk directly with your therapist about your worries about whether she will keep your confidences. She will explain any limits on confidentiality so that you can relax into the work.

As for the abuse: Abuse is abuse is abuse. Abuse affects the victim regardless of what motivates the abuser. Even when there are understandable reasons why a person with intellectual disability (ID) is sexually inappropriate, it doesn’t take away from the impact that behavior has on the victim.

Understanding your aunt’s ID doesn’t get her “off the hook”. It identifies where she needs treatment. That really isn’t your problem. It is a problem for her helpers and her family to deal with. It’s not unusual for those close to a person with ID to be in denial about their sexually inappropriate behavior. They look at the person’s behavior through the filter of their disability and either dismiss it or make excuses for it. This doesn’t help either the person with ID or the victim. Now that you are older, perhaps you can talk to your parents about what really happened, its effect on you, and your aunt’s need for treatment.

Please don’t blame yourself for not being more direct with your parents about what was going on. You are not at all alone in that response. You were a kid. What she was doing to you was confusing for you. Your parents’ reaction when you wanted to stay away from her probably made you feel that it wasn’t okay to talk about it or that you wouldn’t be believed.

I’m very glad you are seeing a therapist. I hope you can finally talk about what happened and get the support and guidance you need and deserve to deal with it. I’m also very glad that you want to deal with this now, while you are still a teen. Untreated trauma can make it difficult to be in an intimate sexual relationship. Dealing with it now will help you leave the past where it belongs – in the past – so you can enjoy a relationship now and in the future.

One of the many challenges in working with people with ID who have abused someone who is more vulnerable than they are is figuring out whether the person is a bonafide deviant or is acting out of ignorance.¬† David Hingburger and his colleagues outlined what they call “counterfeit deviance”, behaviors that look like sexual deviance but are in fact due to such things as lack of information, repressive environments, or lack of impulse control and social skills. I won’t go into detail here. If you are interested in learning more about sexually problematic behavior by people with ID, I suggest you look at this article: “Counterfeit Deviance Revisited.”

I do remind you that whatever the motivation and difficulties of a person with ID, you are still entitled to your feelings of hurt, confusion, and even anger for your sense of betrayal by the adults who didn’t do something about it. That’s the work of your therapy. I hope you and your therapist can find a way to make your sessions feel safe enough for you to work on resolving any thoughts and feelings that are a result of the abuse.

I wish you well,

Dr. Marie

My Abuser Was Disabled

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). My Abuser Was Disabled. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jun 2019 (Originally: 19 Jun 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jun 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.