Dr. Curtiss was invited to the Center of Disability Studies at the University of Delaware to present on Sexual Consent and Disability. Participants learned what sexual consent is from a sexual health perspective and a legal perspective. They also learned important considerations when teaching consent and how teaching consent promotes sexual safety.
When Dr. Curtiss talks about teaching sexual consent she discussed four main skills: Saying No, Recognizing No, Respecting No, and Saying Yes. To say No, you need to be able to say NO with different levels of intensity, to have multiple strategies for saying NO, a be able to say NO in a variety of contexts including online. To be able to recognize No, you need to be able to recognize verbal, non-vebal, and contextual NO as well as NO by omission. To be able to respect NO you need to have self-regulation skills to manage emotional reaction to hearing NO. To be able to say YES, you need to understand what feel comfortable.
It is difficult to determine the exact risk of sexual abuse for individuals with ASD. For one thing, reports of sexual abuse in the general population can vary widely. The first national survey reports victimization rates of 27% for women and 16% of men (Finkelhor et al., 1990)*- and many studies seem to report findings similar to this. A study has shown that children with disabilities are 1.7 times more likely to experience sexual abuse (Crosse, Kaye & Ratnofsky, 1993)*. In this study all children with disabilities were examined, not just individuals with ASD . Individuals who are caregiver dependent may be at the highest risk as family members, family acquaintances, and paid caregivers are the most likely to commit sexual abuse (Mansell et al., 1996)*. Difficulties communicating, lack of knowledge of sexual norms and activities, and isolation may contribute to increased risk of sexual abuse among individuals with ASD.
So what can you so? Here are 5 places to start.
Have a clear reporting procedure of any suspected incidences of abuse or neglect and use it!
Don’t hug, kiss, hold hands, snuggle or in other ways compromise professional boundaries. Not only does this potentially mask dangerous “grooming” by sexual predators, it also communicates that individuals with disabilities are asexual.
Sexuality education 🙂 may provide opportunities to for individuals to be better able to communicate and better understand social norms and activities thus giving them tools to better understand if abuse may be taking place.
Teach folks to say no! When we don’t provide structured opportunities for people to say no, then when they need to they don’t know how.
Don’t let sex be a taboo. If everyone is afraid to talk about it, they will be afraid when there is a problem also. Also, perpetrators will be deterred by the open communication.
The Department of Human Services in Illinois is targeting ending violence against women with disabilities. Click here to learn more!
*Link takes you to an abstract of the original article.
Making decisions about dating can be tough, especially if you don’t really know what types of decisions to make. This graphic can be used to help steer the conversation about dating and how to make healthy decisions. It is available for download here.
Elevatus offers a variety trainings staff, direct support professionals, educators, self-advocates and parents to teach sexuality education to children and adults with developmental disabilities. In addition to their trainings, Elevatus has a sex education curriculum that can be purchased.
Here are examples of some of their trainings and the costs:
For Staff and Professionals – Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality 101 ($397)
For Parents/Guardians – Talking With Your Kids: Developmental Disability and Sexuality ($47)
In-service/live workshops and a 3-Day Certificate Training ($725) for anyone who wants to lead sexuality education classes with people with developmental disabilities.
The Friendships & Dating Program (FDP) offers inclusive teaching plans for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A unique aspect of this program is its emphasis on preventing interpersonal violence. There is a version of this program for youth with serious emotional disturbance. The FDP focuses on skill development through experimental learning and group activities with an interactive 10-week curricular plan. Interested groups can purchase the curriculum on its own ($600) or purchase the curriculum in combination with a train the trainer support provided live online ($1,800). You can find more information about the FDP from the below link. Some module illustrations are available on the website.
Raising an individual with a disability presents a different set of obstacles then an abled individual may, but one topic that all parents must address is sexuality. Individuals with disabilities are sexual beings and therefore deserve an education on sexuality. While parents may acknowledge this need, finding resources and strategies to present the information may be more difficult if you are raising an individual who requires a different method of learning.
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents provides a well rounded variety of information pertaining to sexuality. The website includes a section of information labeled “for all parents” that contains subjects they believe are useful for all children. In addition, they provide sections titles “For parents of children of typical development”, “For parents of children with developmental disabilities”, and “For parents of children with physical disabilities”. In each section, you can find a variety of information such as basics, specifics, activities, and additional resources. They also include tip guides!
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents works to provide a better, comprehensive information base for parents to use when addressing sexuality to their child. The variety of knowledge is extremely useful when trying to find information to meet your child’s specific needs. In their own words, their mission statement claims “It’s time to acknowledge that children with developmental disabilities will become adults with sexual feelings, and as such, we must provide them with the information and skills they’ll need to become sexually healthy adults.“
Sexuality and Disability is a free blog dedicated to providing a resource for women with disabilities. The blog answers questions pertaining to sex, the body, relationships, and more in a safe and open discussion. The welcome statement of the website encompasses this;
“Our site starts with the premise that people with disabilities are sexual beings – just like anyone else. sexualityanddisability.org is constructed as a bunch of questions a woman with a disability might have – about her body, about the mechanics and dynamics of having sex, about the complexities of being in an intimate relationship or having children, about unvoiced fears or experiences of encountering abuse in some form.”
Sexuality and Disabilityalso includes an award-winning section that appeals to many individuals with disabilities that contains stories from the point of view of an individual with a disability and gives an in depth and realistic view on sexual topics.
I had the honor of presenting at the Champaign-Urbana Autism Conference where Temple Grandin was the key note speaker. So much of her message could be applied to human sexuality instruction.
Don’t yell “no!” Calmly tell people what they should be doing. (Dr. Grandin was talking about putting her finger in her water cup at the dinner table, but the same rule applies to masturbation).
Give lots and lots of examples of what falls within a category and it will eventually build up the concept you are working on. (Dr. Grandin was talking about understanding church steeples but the same strategy can be used to understand body parts).
Once you have a concept down use that concept to expand. (Dr. Grandin was talking about airplanes, but the same principle applies to privacy – one you get private body parts down you can use the concept of privacy to understand places and ideas).
And from Eustacia Cutler (Dr. Grandin’s mother), “The more we understand how autism [and sexuality] works the less anxious we become.” And sexuality added.
I focused on goals for sexuality instruction across the lifespan (exploring, understanding boundaries, coping with changes, and living your story) as well as modalities for instruction (socialization, formal lessons, behavior planning, and advocacy). You can find my presentation here.
Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center is a program for sexual abuse prevention and response to crisis. They have supports specifically for children with disabilities. They recommend creating a family safety plan, teaching children about sex and sexuality, learning about sexual development, taking to caregivers/program staff about issues of sexuality, and watching others’ behaviors.I like this resource because the focus in on prevention through increasing the viability of sexuality.
The culture that makes it inappropriate to talk about healthy sex and sexuality creates a hidden space where dangerous sexual behavior can take place. Whenever we’re talking about prevention, I think that it is important to highlight that children and often adults with developmental disabilities cannot prevent their own abuse. Adults and older children with more power and more control manipulate to create situations where they can abuse. Prevention looks like trying to eliminate those spaces and creating opportunities for reporting. This agency seems to focus on that method and minimize language that blames the victim.
We came across a great resource from Safe Place concerning abuse, including sexual abuse, and children with a myriad of disabilities, including neurodevelopmental (ASD,ADHD, intellectual disability), physical and sensory (blindness, deafness), brain injury, and mental health disabilities. This guide poses many questions about communicating and interacting with children with disabilities who may suffer from abuse or neglect. It also offers many suggestions to caregivers, family members, and educators about how to understand specific disabilities in the context of abuse.
You Are in Charge of Your Body: A video series aimed at young children to identify and understand sexual abuse and how to communicate these incidents to adults. It also teaches children to take charge of their bodies.
Sexual violence comes in many forms and it can be difficult to distinguish them. Here’s a basic guide on how to classify types of sexual violence.
Sexual Harassment: Giving someone unwanted sexual attention. This can include touching someone’s body without their explicit permission, asking for sexual acts, and catcalling, which is an unwelcome, sexually charged comment.
Rape: Forced vaginal, anal, or oral sexual intercourse. Rape lacks clear consent. Rape can occur by strangers or people you know, even a partner. Sometimes, power is used to coerce a person into sexual intercourse. In these case, usually a person declines sexual advances and is then guilted into intercourse.
Statutory Rape: Sexual intercourse with a person who is a minor or not at the age of consent (which varies by state and country). Get more information on statutory rape and the age of consent here.
Incest: Sexual acts between people who are related. This can be siblings, parent-child, uncles/aunts and nephews/nieces.
Domestic Violence: Violence between two people in an intimate partnership. This includes threats and acts of violence (i.e. battery).
Stalking: When a person repeatedly follows, watches, or harasses someone for a long period of time. This can include excessive phone calls (i.e. five phone calls in one hours) and giving gifts.
So, how can we prevent sexual violence and protect ourselves and others against it?
Understanding sexual violence: By understanding the types of sexual violence, it can be easier to identify and understand how it can affect yourself and others.
Speak out if something doesn’t feel right: If you are feeling that you have been part of a sexual act that did not make you feel good or that you did not want to do, telling someone you trust or contacting a sexual assault survivor’s line can help clarify the situation.
Teach consent as a mandatory step in all sexual situations: Consent is a fancy way of saying “yes, I would like this to happen.” By giving consent, you are allowing another person to touch your body. You can tell them what you are and are not comfortable with (i.e. “I do not want to do vaginal sex, only oral”). Understanding that consent can change at anytime during the interaction is also important and can be overlooked. It’s okay to say “stop, I don’t want to have sex anymore.”
Here’s a quick video about consent, including examples of what consent looks like.
For those of you who have come to a workshop, this activity was similar to what we did in the workshop. We thought about power and control in relationships and specifically the benefits of having more power, benefits of having less power, drawbacks to having more power, and the drawbacks to having less power. Once we got it all up on the board we used put a circle in the center and talked about how different situations would be red flags that a relationship would be unsafe. We also did a shortened version of the “What Should I do Worksheet” and role played some of the different scenarios (like one friend calling another friend because her boyfriend just told her there was a greater age difference than she assumed).
We want more people to get good sexuality education so feel free to use our materials. If you improve on them, let me know!
One of the participants in our group loves to do trainings and so we included a online training program to identity dating violence in teen relationships. You may find this site really useful too. Dating Maters offers a 1 hour and 20 minute training that will allow you to identify examples of teen dating violence and understand the consequences of teen dating violence. The training will teach you the risk factors, protective factors, warning signs, and challenges for seeking help for teen dating violence. The material is a good starting place for adult relationships too.
Flirting can be a difficult subject to talk about because it always varies. This aid has some typical behaviors that are flirting, maybe flirting, and not flirting. It’s important to note that this is not a exhaustive list and that some of these behaviors are not guarantees of flirty or not flirty behavior, but it is a great place to start the conversation. This activity can be used to steer a conversation about how and when flirting occurs, and the fluidity of these behaviors.