Did you know that children with with intellectual and mental health disabilities are at 4.6 times the risk for sexual abuse as compared to children without disabilities?
What can we do about this as educators about this staggering and tragic statistic? About 90% of children who are abused know their abusers. Most cases are not cases of stranger danger. Which means we need to get uncomfortable in recognizing the dangers present rather than blaming an outside “other.”
What can we do to stop abuse?
Not Everybody Is a Good Guy
We need to figure out how to have tough conversations with our kids letting them know that not everybody they know is good. Keep in mind perpetrators seek out opportunities that put them into contact with children with disabilities because they are less likely to report or be taken seriously. This problem is compounded when you consider how kids with special needs often come into contact with many service providers and some of them need assistance with self care.
Identify Appropriate and Inappropriate Touching
Can your students identity what kinds of touch are helping and which ones are abusive? We need to empower our students to reduce their risk by helping them identify and leave situations that could be dangerous. I’m not sure how to even teach that and do so in a way that it is not traumatizing. If anybody knows about any experts on this, that would be incredibly helpful knowledge. Are there curriculum and instructional materials designed to address this in a way our students can understand and put into practice?
Rethink Compliance and Stive for Independence
Ask yourself, how important is immediate student compliance to you? A “culture of compliance” sets our students up to obey abusers without question. While it isn’t always fun when our students question us and refuse, I find myself grateful that they have the skill of being non-compliant. It reminds me a bit of the movie Ella Enchanted and how her “gift” of compliance was really a curse. In a way, compliance is related to dependence and the goal for all our students should be maximum independence possible.
Work In Teams
We need to have policies in our classrooms and all school settings that minimize the risk for abuse. For example, when I worked in a nursery, there were always to be two adults in the room. Not only would a policy like this reduce the potential for abuse, it could also improve student to staff ratios. I think it could discourage abusers from professions inside schools by sending a message that there is no place for them to hide in our schools.
We also need to increase awareness around this topic. The subject is painful, but we do children a disservice by shying away from it.
As educators, we are mandated reporters, and that includes anything involving fellow staff members.
Some of the ideas in this post are thanks to Nancy Smith and Sandra Harrell’s article “Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot” which was included in Child Law Practice in July 2013.
Also thanks to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.