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.
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.
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.
The focus of week 6 was to better understand power relationships. During this week, the participants worked together on a activity that helped them to learn 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. The main concept that we were teaching with this activity is that there should be a balance when it comes to power. We first brainstormed ideas on what it meant to have power in a relationship. After that, the participants discussed how different situations could be red flags that a relationship is not safe and we had them place those on the outside of the circle. We superimposed a circle onto our original brainstorming to reinforce this concept (using the powerpoint project and a dry erase board).
At the end of group we played a “Would you Rather” game to help them tune into how much power and control they prefer to have in relationships. Students are asked about different relationships where there is a power difference (eg. parent-child). If they would prefer the more powerful option they take a step forward, the less and they stand still. In my experience, individuals with disabilities are much more likely to choose a majority of less powerful positions in relationships. Food for thought.
Teaching and learning about privacy can be difficult and confusing. This activity uses a continuum of privacy (using private, semi-private, and public) to help differentiate privacy levels. There are two topics: body parts and places. You can use this activity to explain different privacy levels and explain contextual differences (i.e. a stomach can be a public body part at the beach, but a private body part at school) . Download the privacy activity places and body parts here!
I wanted to put you in touch with a website called “Living Well with Autism“. They have several Board Maker Social Stories related to privacy.
While I think overall this site has some nice ideas, I’d be careful about using “Good Touch Bad Touch”. Good/Bad may bring up feelings of guilt, could be over generalized, and might be confusing as an assault often starts with touches that feel good then moves to touches that feel bad. Also, there are some studies that have shown that children understand the word touch differently than adults. For example they wouldn’t categorize people kissing as touching, because well, they’re kissing. I think this could be a problem for someone with an intellectual disability that doesn’t categorize well. I like the terms safe and unsafe touch. I also like saying touching makes you feel something. If a touch feels good, it’s probably safe. If a touch doesn’t feel good it’s probably not safe. Then you can teach specific kinds of touches. Having said that, the site gives you some good Social Stories to start with. Pictured left is part of one of their stories.
Just another note on language. There is a movement among abuse prevention advocates to alter some our terminology when talking about sexual abuse prevention. I mention in my workshop that we have to be careful when talking about using education to help prevent sexual abuse because it implies that the individual is responsible for reducing his or her own risk. Alternative terminology includes personal safety skills, abuse-response skills, or self-protection skills.
It can be a little overwhelming to start thinking about communicating pictorially about human sexuality topics, but there are some supports available.
Many of you already use Board Maker (computer software that helps make visual supports and PECS). They have a “Communicating About Sexuality” add on that is very useful and only costs $15.00 (but you have to already have Board Maker).
If you would like some guidelines on how to approach augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in regards to sexuality Speak Up has resources that you may find useful. Speak Up is a group dedicated to preventing sexual abuse/victimization among people who use alternative communication. They have guidelines, suggestions for communication displays, and information about building sexual vocabulary. This group surveyed individuals who use AAC and found that ACC users say they need:
Shirley Paceley is based out of Blue Tower Training in Decatur, Illinois. She has been working with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 30 years and has specific expertise in abuse prevention and intervention. She is available to do trainings and consultations.
Check out this online store for books and resources developed by Shirley and others for teaching about sexuality and sexual abuse prevention.
Living Safer Sexual Lives is a training pack available for purchase ($57.23) for those of you who may be doing training on human sexuality and disabilities. I have not personally used their materials, but it was developed in a very interesting way and it’s not very expensive so I thought I’d pass it along. A research group in Australia interviewed several people with intellectual disability about their sexual lives and then used their stories to develop this training. The training is targeted toward parents, professionals, and self advocates. The training pack has three parts: introduction, training, and resources (including a DVD of people with intellectual disability telling their stories).
You can read the full report which outlines the findings from the interviews and how they used the interviews to shape the training. The report also includes accounts from people with disabilities about their sexuality.
The key themes that emerged from the stories were:
Diversity and similarity. Diversity within the lives of the story-tellers and similarities between needs and desires of this group and other adults.
Thank you to Kelli at the Developmental Services Center for sending out this information! Over the past three years, three laws have been passed that improve public policy with the goal of increasing access to services for women with disabilities who experience sexual violence:
P.A. 96-318, eff. Jan. 1, 2010- Consent of a guardian, health care surrogate or health care power of attorney is not required in order for a victim with a disability to receive health care or release forensic evidence following a sexual assault.
If a victim with a disability is unable to consent to the release of evidence, and the victim’s guardian, health care surrogate or health care power of attorney is unavailable or unwilling to release the information, an investigating law enforcement officer may release the evidence.
P.A. 96-1010, eff. Jan 1, 2011- An adult with a guardian can:
decide whether his or her guardian can look at her/his rape crisis center records; and
decide whether or not to waive the rape crisis center privilege.
P.A. 97-165, eff. Jan. 1, 2012- An adult with a guardian can attend up to five, forty-five minute counseling sessions without the consent of, or notice to, the guardian unless the counselor or therapist believes such disclosure is necessary.
Click the link below to download fact sheets created for advocates and self-advocates
These fact sheets are a product of the Illinois Imagines Project, a collaborative among the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and self-advocates for people with disabilities.
Thank you to these groups who not only created these facts sheets but also advocated for these protections!
Here is an example of a five point scale that was developed by April Keaton, LCSW, to explain the different levels of relationships. The pyramid shape was used to convey that you might have a lot of “friendly acquaintances” but much fewer “long term relationships”. It was important for this person to connect the level of the relationship with the level of intimacy so you see examples of intimate behaviors at each level of the pyramid. There’s also an element of time built into the descriptions. You wouldn’t have to start with pyramid filled out. You could start with a blank pyramid and support an individual with filling in the levels. You could add names of individuals at each level. You can download the pdf of this image by clicking here.