When Sally met Matthew, she said she loved him from the first.  Of course, Sally had never had a man give her any attention all of her 30 years.  A petite blonde, she had lived in a small town in North Carolina.  Her parents had protected her to the point that she wasn’t even able to go to a sheltered workshop to work.  Then tragic events brought her to our county to live with a distant relative that she had only met one time.

After several years, the relative was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a young woman with Downs Syndrome.  She turned to a local agency for help.  Sally was able to obtain a placement in a group home.  Within a few months, Sally was moved into an apartment.  Matthew lived in the apartment across the hall from Sally.  He was an experienced young man who understood how to win Sally’s heart.

Unfortunately, Matthew was the victim of abuse in his family.  Therefore, he proceeded to abuse Sally, beating her badly after their sexual encounters.  Because Matthew was also a mentally challenged individual and Sally refused to press charges against the man she loved, Matthew was never arrested or paid any price for his brutal beatings.

It is a well-known psychological fact that victims of abuse become abusers.  While we hate to admit it, this fact is true within the mentally challenged community, also.  While the story of Sally and Matthew is ugly and rare, it is true.  Perhaps the blame rests on the professional community, who believed that the indisputable principle of choice was more important than safety.  Perhaps it was the fault of APD who encourages the placement of people into apartments, whether they are ready for that move or not.

It would seem obvious that Sally wasn’t prepared to handle Matthew’s advances.  Yet, she wasn’t moved from the apartment complex or given the kind of protection that she needed.  Perhaps, it is the fault of politicians, who can’t seem to find the money to provide funding for our most vulnerable citizen.  Perhaps it is the fault of an entire society who discount the value of mentally challenged people.

Perhaps, there are too many people who cling to a faulty and unsafe philosophy to point fingers to any one set of people.  Could it be that there are so many problems involved in the system that there is no good solution?  This is why we at The Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, must advocate for the community we serve.  Richard Stimson, the Executive Director of Special Gathering, has said, “A shepherd protects his sheep.  Therefore, advocacy must be a part of pastoral care.”

What do you think is the responsibility of a specialized ministry in regard to advocacy?  Even though Sally wasn’t a member of Special Gathering, did we still have an obligation to advocate for her?  What could be done for Sally, since she didn’t want any help?

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