April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

For the last several years we have written articles about sexual assault awareness month, we have joined CA in “Denim Day” and we have engaged with stakeholders to “try” to raise awareness about the high rate of sexual victimization of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I will say that for many people with and without I/DD this is a very difficult issue to discuss. Often there is pain, shame, anger, discomfort or disbelief when it comes to sexual victimization experiences people have had or fear that something has happened or will happen to someone we care about. So, how do we change the conversation and move from being considered a “vulnerable population that is victimized at significantly higher rates” to part of AND INCLUDED in the larger societal conversation around sexual assault awareness and prevention? I think the conversation is changing, albeit slowly, as we see amazing self-advocates who have experienced sexual violence taking stages across the country to educate their peers about different ways they can get help if they need it. We are seeing legislative proposals to increase training for investigators so they can learn more about communicating with people that may have communication styles other than verbal. Victims services such as rape crisis and counseling centers at the local level are learning more about responding to the needs of people with I/DD. These are all important steps to empowering the I/DD community and being included in the larger conversation but there is still more to do! Members and representatives from the I/DD community should be involved at the local and state level so issues important to the I/DD community are heard when policies are being developed. For example, most rape crisis centers are non-profit organizations that have a Board of Directors so being a board member is one good option. Local law enforcement advisory committees are another good place to make sure issues that are important are heard and the state has various boards and commissions that have important advisory committees so participating on or in those could also be very effective.

This year the theme of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is I ASK! The focus this year is on consent and what it really means. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has published several resources and their toolkit that are specific to the issue of consent. To learn more about the available resources and ways you can participate in the campaign visit https://www.nsvrc.org/saam

Talk About Sexual Violence (TASV) Initiative is Expanding 

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) face far greater rates of sexual violence than their …

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) face far greater rates of sexual violence than their non-disabled counterparts. Many of these instances of abuse go unreported, and the physical and psychological trauma that result, untreated. The Arc of the United States National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), through a grant from the WITH Foundation, is expanding their Talk About Sexual Violence (TASV) initiative to combat these injustices.

TASV is a platform for educating healthcare professionals on how to talk to their patients with I/DD about sexual violence. The WITH Foundation’s grant will expand the program’s current focus on women survivors to include resources about male survivors and the unique barriers they face in disclosing or reporting sexual violence. Much like their female counterparts, men with I/DD are at an increased risk of sexual violence. Research shows that 14% of men with disabilities will experience violent victimization compared to 4% of men without disabilities. Yet, across all groups men are less likely than women to report sexual assault. Men with I/DD, like women with I/DD face additional barriers to reporting, yet they are far less likely to be asked about sexual assault by their health care providers.

Health care professionals are uniquely positioned to educate, treat, and possibly prevent sexual violence within the I/DD community. TASV will work to educate and train health care professionals to speak directly with people with I/DD about this critical issue.

The initiative will have national reach though we are fortunate that its efforts are currently focused in California. TASV is currently looking to interview care providers, survivors, health care providers, and social workers to learn from them. Anyone interested in learning more about the project and giving their input can email Mark Starford, Director Board Resource Center at mark@brcenter.org

Christian Small

Christian McMahon

Communications Specialist

The Arc of California