Capacity to Consent to Sexual Activity among Those with Developmental Disabilities

The Stanford Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Law and Policy Project released a report focused on the Capacity to Consent to Sexual Activity among Those with Developmental Disabilities (link takes you to the page where you can freely download the report). The report provides historical background, the current state of the field, and capacity definitions. There are no federal statutes defining sexual assault and consent – each state has its own statutes. The report highlights six standards for consent used in various states: morality, nature and the consequences, totality of the circumstances, nature of the conduct, judgement, and evidence of disability. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) provides easy access to the laws in each state (link takes you to their state law finder). As wording in state statutes can be vague, judicial decisions help provide guidance for interpreting the statutes. The report from Stanford Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Law and Policy Project provides summaries of judicial decision for each state. This report is an important tool for both victim rights and sexual autonomy advocates.

Guest Room

Guest Room is a short film Written & Directed by Joshua Tate and starring Lauren Potter (“Glee”) and Michael Iovine (lovelandfilm.com).  It won the Audience Award (Competition Short) at SXSW 2015.

I think you are going to love this movie.  It’s beautiful, emotional, and honest.  I could easily see this being used in a human sexuality classroom to help discuss parenting, consent, and support from families.  It follows the story of a young couple who are faced in a situation many young couples find themselves in, an unexpected pregnancy.  Like many young couples, the response of their families  is shock and disappointment and this makes it difficult to determine their own feelings, hopes, and wants.

 

There was one statistic that was mentioned in the film that I had not heard before.  It said that a women with Down Syndrome has a 50% chance of having a child with Down Syndrome.  I did a little digging to see if I could find out more and received some help from The Tech Geneticist a  project from the University of Stanford which seeks to increase the public understanding of genetics.  About half of the eggs of a women with Down Syndrome will have an extra 21st chromosome (similar to what is described in this post http://genetics.thetech.org/ask/ask296).  Her actual chance of having a child with Down Syndrome is less than 50% because fetuses with extra 21st chromosomes are at increased risk of complications.  According to the National Down Syndrome Society only about 50% of women with Down Syndrome are fertile (ovulate).

It’s trickier when it comes to thinking about the father.  Much less is known about the heritability (chance of passing a genetic trait on) of Down Syndrome for men with Down Syndrome, but it may be that their sperm that carry two 21st chromosomes would be less viable than their sperm that only have one.  Both the Tech Geneticist and the National Down Syndrome Society suggested men with Down Syndrome seem to have much lower fertility rates than their same age peers with two 21st chromosomes.

 

Sexual Violence: How to Protect and Prevent

Here are some resources about sexual violence, including crisis hotline information:

Sexual Violence and Disabilities Resources:

Sexual Abuse of Children with Autism: Factors that Increase Risk and Interfere with Recognition of Abuse: A free-to-access report on sexual abuse and children with ASD.

People with Intellectual Disabilities and Sexual Violence: A brief report on signs of sexual violence involving people with intellectual disability.

Guardianship, Sexual Assault, and Rape Kit Rights: A previous post of ours which highlights policy changes involving issues with guardians, sexual assault, and the right to release a rape kit.

Promoting Justice: An Essential Resource Guide for Responding to Abuse Against Children with Disabilities: This guide discusses abuse and neglect toward children with many types of disabilities, including neurodevelopmental, physical, sensory, brain injury, and mental health disabilities.

General Sexual Violence Resources:

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network: General resource about rape, abuse, and incest. There’s a lot of information, but not all of it is specific to people with intellectual disability.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Parenting resources on sexual abuse in English and Spanish.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: A great resource on domestic violence and abuse issues, along with contact information for hotlines and other related services.

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.

YouTube Educational Resources: Healthchannel, Sexplanations, and CSPH

YouTube has a lost of great sexuality education resources but it can be hard to find among all of the “not safe for work” content.  Here’s a few channels and videos that might be useful.  One of the most difficult tasks sex educators report is explaining intimate acts.  This can be uncomfortable and difficult so I’ve tried to focus on these difficult to teach topics.  The videos may not be the best fit for the person/people you’re working with, but they can give you an idea where to start.  The channels also have great resources for expanding your own education on sexuality topics.


 

The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (CSPH) has a lot of great videos.  Is one of my favorite cites.  In addition to having direct information they also have videos for parents (“Use Your Words” videos).

Healthchannel is a YouTube channel with short videos on a variety of health care issues including sexual health resources including a few I’ve listed below.  The videos aren’t prefect.  They don’t feature animations with people with disabilities and focus on heterosexual couples, but they give very precise, clear information.

Sexplanations is another YouTube channel.  They have mini episodes on human sexuality topics from shared sexual behavior to STDs to anatomy.  Again the videos aren’t perfect.  They move a little too quickly than I would like, but I’ve selected a few I think could be helpful.  They could also be good to expand your own understanding of various topics.