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.

Sexual Safety Resource: Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center

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.

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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.

Here is a webinar which aired live on December 9th, 2015 on Safety & Autism: Helping caregivers and providers talk about sexual abuse and prevention.

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.

Symbols for Life- Picture Communication System

Untitled copyAn easy ready guide about abuse and neglect was forwarded along to me (thank you, Jennifer).  I think most agencies have adapted abuse and neglect information readily accessible to the individuals they serve and comparatively,  I thought this one was nicely done.  It’s made with a product called Symbols for Life.  Essentially, it’s a picture package featuring individuals with developmental disabilities.  One copy is $298.00 and then additional copies are discounted.  A lot of times, I like to make things with pictures of the individual I’m working with, but there are times when that is inappropriate/unfeasible.   I think this could be a good source for those occasions.

Here’s the Say NO to Abuse pdf if you want to check it out.

Privacy Social Stories and Notes on Language

living well with autismI wanted to put you in touch with a website called “Living Well with Autism“.  They have several Board Maker Social Stories related to privacy.

Privacy Social StoryWhile 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.

YAI Online Resource Center

YAI is a agency out of New York that has a relationship video series I really like.  They also have developed a determining sexual consent manual (which you can get through their online resource center).

Unfortunately, this is not a free service, but as far as somethings go, it’s not too bad.  For $150 a year you can buy membership to the YAI’s online resource center.  You then get to download tons of materials.  They have a lot on relationships and sexuality.  Some of it is geared toward staff/educator preparedness but they also have lesson plans.  Many of the items are available to purchase separately without buying membership to the resource center (and other items, like the relationship videos, aren’t available to download).

You can check out some of the resources available during a free trial.

Sexual Abuse Self Protection Resources

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.

New Laws Regarding Guardianship and Access Sexual Violence Services

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

Public Policy Committee Fact Sheets 6.12.12

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!

Are Individuals with ASD at an Increased Risk of Sexual Abuse?

It is difficult to determine the exact risk of sexual abuse for individuals with ASD (it’s hard to get a good report of sexual abuse among the general population).  The first national survey reports victimization rates of 27% for women and 16% of men among the general population (Finkelhor et al., 1990). A study has shown that children with disabilities are 1.7 times more likely to experience sexual abuse however all children with disabilities were examined, not just individuals with ASD (Crosse, Kaye & Ratnofsky, 1993). Individuals who are caregiver dependent may be at the highest risk because 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. Sexuality education may provide opportunities to for individuals to be better able to communicate and better understand social norms and activities. Furthermore if the support systems of individuals with ASD are in openly talking about sexuality it may create a climate where this abuse is less likely to happen.  The Department of Human Services in Illinois has started a project to end sexual violence against women with disabilities.  I’ve gotten to meet several people working on the project and they are very knowledgeable and dedicated.  I hope they succeed!

Free Curriculum- Parent Version, Teacher Version, Spanish Version

ImageI’m really excited about this free curriculum, “Sexuality Across the Lifespan” by: DiAnn L. Baxley and Anna L. Zendell.  It has versions for educators, teachers, and Spanish speakers.  You can view the curriculum by clicking on the links below.

What makes this special?  They do a nice job at adjusting lessons for different age groups, giving ideas for supplemental activities, and giving ideas for incorporating the topics into routines.  The parent version really focuses on how to reinforce healthy sexual development through interactions and daily routines.

This curriculum in not comprehensive but does have sections on social skills, dating, sexual abuse, puberty, and anatomy.  I hope you find this useful!

Introduction to Sexuality Education for Individuals Who Are Deaf-Blind and Significantly Developmentally Delayed

I found this great (free) book online.  Although it targets parents, caregivers, and professionals who work with individuals who are deaf-blind and significantly developmentally delayed- you may find useful info even if this not your target population.  Kate Moss & Robbie Blaha’s overall approach to education considers four basic tools for instruction: routines, units, teachable moments, and behavior plans.  Chapters include …

Chapter 1 – Introduction
Chapter 2 – Sexuality Education
Chapter 3 – Developing an Instruction Plan
Chapter 4 – Modesty
Chapter 5 – Appropriate Touch and Personal Boundaries
Chapter 6 – Menstruation
Chapter 7 – Masturbation
Chapter 8 – Sexual Health Care
Chapter 9 – Sexual Abuse

I just want to highlight a couple of things I found particularly useful.  They provide instructions for developing a sexual education policy and provide a model policy as well as sample permission forms.  I also thought that their plan for supporting with menstruation was well thought out and useful.

There’s also the Texas School for the Blind and Visually-Impaired’s website, which offers some strategies for supporting and educating visually impaired individuals about many topics such as gender roles, social skills, personal safety, gender identity, sexual language, masturbation, and reproductive anatomy.