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Witness competency in people with mental retardation: Implications for prosecution of sexual abuse

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Victims with mental retardation have been excluded from the legal system based on the belief that they are incompetent to provide accurate, reliable testimony. Such restrictions contribute to the increased risk that people with mental retardation will be victimized. This article examines the complexity surrounding definitions of competency, as well as the mythology which serves to de-emphasize the abilities of victims to testify against an alleged perpetrator. The implications of the presumption of incompetency are highlighted through the example of sexual abuse. Empirical evidence and recent court cases are used to argue that people with mental retardation deserve access to the same standards of competency as the rest of the population.

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Correspondence to Denise C. Valenti-Hein Ph.D.

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Valenti-Hein, D.C., Schwartz, L.D. Witness competency in people with mental retardation: Implications for prosecution of sexual abuse. Sex Disabil 11, 287–294 (1993).

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Key words

  • Disability
  • competency
  • sexual abuse
  • mental retardation
  • laws