Everyone needs more sex education

Kellsie Edgcomb, Assistant Opinion Editor

The #MeToo conversation continues. This does help to give survivors of abuse and harassment a voice, but it is still not enough. One large population of women and men are still high risk for abuse: individuals with intellectual disabilities. In a recent, yearlong NPR investigation, they concluded those with intellectual disabilities are assaulted at seven times the rate of the average non-disabled person.

Why is this number so high? Often the caretakers who these individuals trust are the perpetrators of these crimes. A psychologist is quoted in the NPR article saying that a client of hers received rides to and from appointments from a male individual. The client explained that during the drive back to her home, this driver turned the opposite direction from the actual route home. The client objected verbally, but the driver ignored her insistence and took her to a nearby forest to sexually assault her. This person had no control over the situation and completely relied on the abuser for transportation. She did not have the ability to get away from her abuser.

Individuals with disabilities cannot even trust family members. Family members can also be perpetrators of these crimes. A separate psychologist only learned of her client’s abuse history when the individual expressed his concern of his niece and nephew’s safety. The extended family was moving in with his stepfather. The psychologist asked why he had concern for the children’s safety and he revealed that he had been assaulted by the stepfather years earlier. Fortunately, this was immediately reported and the stepfather was sentenced for this crime.

Disabilities exist on a spectrum, but many of these individuals are looked down upon. They are not dumb, worthless, or less-than just because they speak slower or do not have the vocabulary of someone of equal age without disabilities. However, if they do try to report a sexual assault, they are often not believed or are told they imagined the encounter. Law enforcement and many medical professionals do not receive specific training on how to interact with people with disabilities to get an accurate report of the events. Because of these factors, instances of abuse and assault are often not handled correctly.

What can be done to lower these instances of sexual violence in intellectually disabled individuals? It is pretty simple actually. The answer is education for both the individuals and for everyone who interacts with them.

We need age-appropriate sex education before and during adolescence and even into adulthood, but not the kind of sex ed the average student receives. Only 24 U.S. states mandate sex education in schools (Illinois is not one of them). Consent education is not mandated in any state. Not only does consent education give people the tools to learn about sex, it also normalizes these discussions. Teaching someone they have a right to decide what does and does not happen to their body is huge, especially for someone with intellectual disabilities. Talking about sex would not be the awkward and scary thing it often is today.

In addition to individual education, medical professionals and law enforcement professionals need access to better and more in-depth training on how to handle these situations. An unconscious bias exists in many people. That is human nature, we all have worldviews based on the culture we exist in. These biases can’t be recognized without education and awareness.

These programs need to be implemented in mandating training for people in these career fields. Sexual assault and harassment training exists in mandated programs, but these rarely include any information about intellectually disabled individuals being high-risk and how to proceed with handling someone trying to talk about and report instances of abuse and assault.

It’s time to start preventing #MeToo and moving toward doing something! Talking is great, but taking action is better.