(PRWEB) June 26, 2012
Jerry Sandusky’s victims bravely told the horror of their abuse in disturbing detail, telling of time in Sandusky’s basement and the showers at Penn State. Jerry Sandusky is convicted and will remain in jail for the rest of his life, but the larger issue exposed by this scandal remains. Sexual abuse is a silent epidemic in America.
Shame, fear, and social stigma prevent most victims from reporting an assault. Even victims brave enough to report their abuse are hesitant to talk about it. Even though people with disabilities experience all of these emotions, it can be difficult to fully understand and communicate the abuse (i).
People with disabilities are at a higher risk for sexual assault. Men and boys with a disability are three times more likely to be sexually abused, women and girls are twice as likely to experience a sexual assault in their lifetime than non-disabled peers (ii). One explanation for the high rate of abuse is that predators know people with disabilities are vulnerable, less likely to report an attack, and when they do report, are often not believed.
Abuse is a fear for all parents. Children and teens with autism are at greater risk and their parents are afraid. The research shows that their fear is real, and the number of children who are at risk is growing. This year, 1in 88 children will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. This is a current and unspoken crisis for the autism community that must be addressed. It may feel overwhelming, but there are several steps parents, teachers, and others can take today to reduce the risk of sexual assault.
1. Parents, teachers, and community leaders need to talk about sexual abuse. Adults involved with children and adolescents with disabilities need to report their concerns and not depend on victims to report it. At Penn State there were many adults that saw what was happening and looked away. Stop It Now is an advocacy organization that teaches that adults must take primary responsibility for reporting abuse and not expect children to do what adults feel uncomfortable doing.
2. Have a conversation with your family members. Overwhelmingly, people know their abusers. It is important to discuss more than “stranger danger.” Families and professionals must address the fact that 97% (iii) of abusers are known by their victims, and are often very friendly people. Develop a list of people that your family member can “tell” in addition to their parents. Have these people sit down and talk with you and your child so everyone knows what to do. Practice with your child, and other safe adults, what the child should say, “John Doe is hurting me”. Many people will not or do not have the language to say sexual words when it comes to reporting sexual abuse.
3. Teach Sexual Abuse Risk Reduction Skills. Families and professionals need to work together to teach sexual abuse risk reduction skills. This includes teaching relationship boundaries and touching boundaries. Most importantly, teaching them to identify the “creepy feeling” caused when something is wrong. They need to understand and report the “creepy feeling” even if someone they know is making them feel this way. Finally if people do not listen, victims of abuse must keep telling until someone listens, and adults must take any and all allegations of abuse seriously.
Families, schools, and communities can make a difference; this issue is not as daunting as it seems. But we must make a conscious effort to talk about the risks in an accurate way that people with autism will understand. It’s easy to say, “stay away from strangers” and end the conversation. But we owe it to the people we care about to do more.
Jerry Sandusky has exposed a painful reality. Sexual abuse is far more common than anyone would like to admit. However, we can address it as a country and as individual communities. If parents and teachers work together, positive changes can come from this tragedy and people in the disability community can learn abuse risk reduction skills.
Nancy Nowell Certified Sexuality Educator MPA, Med, has been working with people with disabilities for the last 35 years. She teaches in 25 classrooms across Pennsylvania Relationship Education and sexual abuse risk reduction to teens with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and intellectual disabilities. For more information and resources on sexual abuse risk reduction your child or students go to http://www.SocialSignalsED.com.
i. Valenti-Hein, D., & Schwartz, L. (1995). The sexual abuse interview for those with developmental disabilities. James Stanfield Company. Santa Barbara: California.
ii. Mitra, Monika, Vera E. Mouradian, and Marci Diamond. "Sexual Violence Victimization Against Men with Disabilities." American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2011): n. page. Print.
iii. Baladerian, N. (1991). Sexual abuse of people with developmental disabilities. Sexuality and Disability, 9(4), 323-335.