Tough Topic: Sexuality, Abuse, and Disability
There are some terrifying statistics around disability and sex crime.
- Roughly 1 in 5 women have a disability in Canada.
- Of these women 83% will experience a sexual assault over the course of her lifetime.
- 80% of these attacks will be made by a person this woman knows.
- and 78% of sex crimes go unreported.
CL orgs do a great job of teaching employees how to listen and observe for signs of sexual abuse. How to report abuse is a cornerstone of training so I won’t repeat what you already know. Besides listening, observing and reporting here are a few things I’ve learned from managers in the field.
#1 – Advocate that everyone has sexual desires.
There are a lot of myths about disability and sexuality. The top three being;
- People with disabilities do not feel the desire to have sex.
- People with physical and developmental disabilities are child-like and dependent.
- People with disabilities are oversexed and unable to control their sexual urges.
People shouldn’t be denied access to sexual education based on the above myths. People have desires, aren’t children, and with the right supports and education can control their sexuality like everyone else. Gently correcting misconceptions helps society move forward. If society doesn’t connect people with disabilities to sexuality then it’s more difficult to acknowledge that those crimes exist.
#2 – Be open to talking about intimacy.
No one should have to tackle this subject on their own, even an experienced manager! There are lots of reputable resources online and in our communities for discussing healthy intimacy. Among others, Advocates for Youth has a great guidelines page for parents and support professionals.
Supporting people can include questions about sex. Young or new staff may be uncomfortable in this role. Who isn’t? Create supports and have guidelines for the staff in your house. For example, setting boundaries. Answering a person’s questions around sexual intimacy doesn’t and shouldn’t mean having to dish about your own experiences.
#3 – Use specific language.
Avoid using slang to describe intimate behaviour when answering questions. Studies report that accurate knowledge of language for body parts and bodily functions increases the likeliness of reporting inappropriate behaviour.
#4 – Develop a personalized strategy for talking about abuse with the person.
Work with the person to identify a strategy that works. Actively question if the strategy is centered around the persons abilities. Does it have any hidden barriers? Practice the plan in role play to test it for roadblocks invisible to an abled person. Practice has the added benefit of making an encounter a little less foreign and intimidating for both parties. Revisit the plan on a regular basis to make sure it’s still the #1 best strategy for the person.
#5 – Advocate that there is no one size fits all approach to talking about sex or sexual abuse.
Each person is unique; employees, people supported, and member’s of a person’s support circle. Their knowledge gaps, level of comfort talking about sexual intimacy, background, and religious orientations will be different. What’s appropriate for one may not be appropriate for another. Advocate that this is normal. Differences of opinion are to be expected. Acknowledging this helps everyone feel more comfortable and ready to tackle a sensitive topic.
What would your advice be? What resources do you use?
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