Sexual Abuse of People with I/DD a Global Scandal

By Theresa Fears, MSW. Theresa has been working in the field of sexual abuse prevention of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for 13 years. She created the Partnership 4 Safety program at The Arc of Spokane. The Arc has recently launched a National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability to address some of the issues highlighted by Theresa and provide resources for people with I/DD who are in contact with the criminal justice system.

rate of sexual abuse graphicSexual abuse of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) is a huge problem.

Children and teens with I/DD are three to four times more likely to be sexually abused than are those without disabilities. Some researchers estimate that the lifetime rate of abuse of adults with disabilities is as high as 90 percent.

Childhood sexual assault has lifelong consequences. Childhood sexual assault has been connected to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and an increased risk of sexual abuse in adulthood.

Adult victims of sexual assault may experience the trauma of not being believed or of being blamed for the attack and risking displacement from their homes or residences. Sadly, many victims do not receive therapy to help deal with the trauma of an attack. In a recent study, only 33 percent of victims received therapy after their sexual assaults. There are many false beliefs about those who offend. The most common is that they are strangers, but according to a number of authors, between 97 percent and 99 percent of assaults were committed by someone the victim already knew. Approximately 44 percent of the perpetrators were connected because of the victim’s disability. Perpetrators may include special education teachers, bus drivers, caregivers and other support personnel.

Research on risk factors for sexual assault of people with I/DD has been consistent over the last 20 years. The frequently reported risk factors are:

  • Lack of education about sexual development  and anatomy
  • Lack of information on abuse awareness
  • Lack of healthy relationship education
  • Lack of social norm education
  • Lack of age-appropriate friends

If sexual assault is a problem, then what is the solution? Prevention! There are three levels of prevention according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary prevention takes place before harm has occurred; its purpose is to stop sexual abuse from happening.

Secondary prevention happens immediately after abuse has occurred; its purpose is to prevent it from happening again. And lastly, tertiary prevention is a response to the harm of sexual abuse — generally therapy.

The CDC has recommendations for creating prevention programming based on years of evaluating what works and what doesn’t.

Providing prevention programming across the lifespan would require offering education to parents of people with I/DD and, children, teens and adults with I/DD.

The logical place to begin primary prevention therefore is with the caregivers of young children — the parents.

A solid parent education program should have three goals:

  • To  increase parents’ understating of  the rates of abuse and risk factors
  • To explain parental obligation to support children’s development as sexual beings and
  • To teach parents how to identify and challenge inappropriate or dangerous behaviors of any adult in a child’s life.

How can you begin a prevention program at your agency? First, look to the programs you already have for a natural fit. It would be easier to add sexual abuse prevention training to a parent education, information, support and advocacy program than it would to an employment program for example.

A good free parent education program is the “Where We Live” curriculum created by Pittsburg Action Against Rape (www.pcar.org/special-initiative). Although it is not written for children with I/DD, it can be easily modified. I would be happy to share this information with Apostrophe readers who are interested in beginning parent education in their community.

http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/VictimizationTBI_Fact%20Sheet4Pros-a.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_abuse_of_people_with_developmental_disabilities#cite_note-5

This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Apostrophe Magazine (October-December).

Some Children with I/DD at Greater Risk from Flu

Young woman with the flu

Photo via nataliejohnson (Flickr)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just published a report on the results of an on-line study they did during the 2011-2012 influenza season regarding vaccination rates for children with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions.  Shockingly, the report indicated that only HALF of children surveyed were vaccinated or had an appointment to be vaccinated and out of those children who indicated they had an intellectual disability it was only slightly better at 52%.  Numbers like this are alarming due to when you consider the 2009 flu outbreak in which 336 children died. Of those, 146 were children with neurologic or neurodevelopmental conditions (76% indicating they had an intellectual disability).

The majority of families rely and trust their physician to provide them with information, expertise and advice on what is best for their child to keep them healthy. However, the study also found that even after this outbreak occurred many physicians still do not rate children with an intellectual disability as being at a high risk and needing the vaccination.

According to the CDC bulletin a child with an intellectual or developmental disability that requires special needs is at a higher risk than others due to the fact that they are more susceptible to developing complications and infections from the flu virus. These complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis, and can also increase the effects of already current chronic health problems. These complications can lead to hospitalization and in severe cases death.

While every parent has the right to choose whether to get their child vaccinated or not, studies like this will help to increase awareness of prevention and knowledge of parents and physicians to help them to make more informed decisions.

As fall rolls in and the flu season quickly approaches you can visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder if you need help finding a location in your area to get vaccinated.

Act Today to Protect Yourself from the Flu

Guarding yourself and your loved ones during flu season has always been important, but a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown how important it truly is for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The study showed that children with intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and other neurologic disorders were at a great risk of complications from the influenza virus.

The study, which focused on the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, found that a disproportionately high number of kids with neurological disorders died from the virus. The 2009 flu season was particularly severe and the number of children who passed away was five times higher than the median for the previous five flu seasons.

“We’ve known for some time that certain neurologic conditions can put children at high risk for serious complications from influenza,” said Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of the surveillance and outbreak response team in CDC’s Influenza Division. “However, the high percentage of pediatric deaths associated with neurologic disorders that occurred during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was a somber reminder of the harm that flu can cause to children with neurologic and neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Now is the time to protect yourself and your family. The CDC is recommending that everyone over 6 months old get an annual influenza vaccination. To learn more about the flu and where to get a flu shot visit the CDC website.

Join Us for our First Twitter Chat! We’ll Talk About Autism with the CDC and More

Twitter Bird Logo

On Monday, April 30th at 3pm EST, The Arc will host a Twitter chat with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations to talk about the latest data on the prevalence of autism and the resources available to people with autism spectrum disorders and their families. During the hour-long chat, we will take your questions and comments – so join us for this Twitter dialogue!

We will explore topics like the early signs of autism in a child, the latest research, including the CDC’s new prevalence data, and resources available through The Arc’s Autism NOW Center.

Following the chat on Twitter is easy. First, follow @TheArcUS and @AutismNowCenter on Twitter. We’ll be using the hashtag: #TheArcChat – this link will allow you to follow the conversation.

There, you’ll be able to follow the conversation in real-time. Keep in mind, if you want to participate in the chat, you’ll need an account on Twitter. If you haven’t used Twitter before, here’s a great link to learn more about it and the basics of Twitter.

If you need an accessible version of Twitter, we recommend using Easy Chirp. Simply visit its website, and sign in with your Twitter credentials.

If you want to be part of the conversation on Twitter, simply use the hashtag: #TheArcChat when you tweet. You can find out more about hashtags in Twitter’s Help section.

We hope to hear from you on Monday, April 30th during our Twitter chat on autism.