Sexual Rights: Safety, Empowering Self-Advocates to Keep Themselves Safe

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The sexual right of safety for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There is a light blue shield with a white check mark in the middle of the shield. Many people with developmental disabilities aren’t safe from physical or sexual abuse. One of the reasons this is true is because people think of them as vulnerable and uneducated. And, unfortunately, many of them are uneducated due to myths about whether people with I/DD are to be considered sexual people with the same rights as people who don’t have disabilities. 

When knowledge and skills are withheld people are set up to be unsafe. People with disabilities are not asking for us to protect them, they are asking for knowledge and skills to keep themselves safe. They are saying they have the right to have what they need to protect themselves – education. 

“I have the right to learn how to keep myself safe from someone hurting me sexually and to use what I learned to help keep me safe.” 

Learning Objectives

For self-advocates to have the knowledge and skills to keep themselves safe.

For professionals to support self-advocates to learn what they need to learn to stay safe.

Here are 3 messages to offer the people you work with to support the learning objectives:

1. Know what your sexual risks are. There’s a belief that only strangers will hurt you sexually. For victims with disabilities, their abuser is known to them 86% of the time. People need to know that even people who are close to them and they know can hurt them. It could be a neighbor, a sweetheart, a family member, a doctor, a direct support provider, or someone online. Most people we know and don’t know won’t hurt us, but we can’t rely on the idea that only strangers are the danger.

2. Remember, your body, your choice. You get to decide who touches you or doesn’t touch you. We need to be reminded of this all the time, all of us. We are in charge of who touches our body. If you need care from another person, you can tell them that you’d like them to ask you before they touch your body. It’s ok to speak up or leave the situation if you don’t like someone touching you. 

3. Learn the information and skills to reduce one’s risk. There is knowledge and skills needed to protect ourselves. Understanding what abuse is, who can abuse a person, and how to get help is important information to stay safe. See the resource below to learn more about healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships and what consent means. 

Inspiration – End Result

We will get to the point where the sexual abuse rates for people with disabilities goes down. People are less likely to become victims of abuse and thus, don’t have to carry trauma throughout their lives. We have a population of happier and healthier people. 

Self reflection/call to action

Knowledge is power and ignorance is not bliss. When we have information and skills to protect ourselves that gives us power. 

For self-advocates: Do you understand the difference between a healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationship? Do you need to learn more about how to stay safe? 

For professionals: Does the person you support have the knowledge and skills to protect themselves? If not, how can you support them in getting this knowledge? 

Here are some resources for you to learn from:

What are healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships from the Organization for Autism Research, Sex ed for Self-Advocates.

What is abuse from the Organization for Autism Research, Sex ed for Self-Advocates.

What is Consent? Elevatus Training Handout

What is consent? National Council for Independent Living, Sex ed by and for self-advocates.

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