U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Confirmed, Unconfirmed, and False Allegations of Abuse Made by Adults with Mental Retardation Who are Members of a Class Action Lawsuit

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 25 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2001 Pages: 1121-1132
Lynn Ahlgrim-Delzell; James R. Dudley
Date Published
August 2001
12 pages
This study examined differences in confirmed, unconfirmed, and false allegations of abuse made by "consumers" with mental retardation who were part of a class-action lawsuit in North Carolina ("Thomas S.") that claimed abuse in a State psychiatric hospital.
In 1984 the court found that their care in the State psychiatric hospitals violated their constitutional rights of safety, protection from harm, treatment under safe conditions, freedom from undue restraint, and minimally adequate rehabilitation or treatment. Interviews were conducted with 1,220 people with mental retardation who were part of the lawsuit. A content analysis of their abuse allegations was conducted. Frequencies of responses and subgroup differences were determined for each type of abuse allegation and each perpetrator. Three questions were addressed for each abuse claim: who reported allegations of abuse?; what type of abuse was reported; and who were the alleged perpetrators. Overall, 9.1 percent of the "Thomas S." consumers made an allegation of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, or exploitation. There were 85 unconfirmed claims (53.8 percent), 40 false allegations (25.3 percent), and 33 confirmed claims (20.9 percent). Females made more allegations of abuse than males in general, as well as more allegations of rape. There were no significant differences among the subgroups by type of abuse allegation. There were significant differences among the subgroups regarding the alleged perpetrator. Other consumers with mental retardation were most often accused of confirmed assaults, and staff members were most often stated to be the perpetrators in false allegations. This study supports previous study findings that consumers with mild mental retardation tend to report abuse more often than consumers with severe/profound mental retardation. The ability of the consumer to report vital information may be a significant factor in explaining this difference in reports of abuse. Whether or not this ability to report explains this difference is a subject for future research. Although there were reports of familial abuse in this study, family members were not the most common perpetrators, a departure from the findings of previous studies. Other consumers within the same living arrangement were the most frequent confirmed perpetrators. In addition to providing greater protection for mentally retarded residents of care facilities, there should also be safeguards in place that can quickly expose and dispel false allegations of abuse against staff. 4 tables and 24 references