Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Matter of When...

Ohio man claims right to have sex with boys

A Dismal Rite of Passage--Autism and Sexual Violence

If the article cited above doesn't justify vigilante justice, I'm not sure what does.

You know, I've been called an "alarmist" for continuing to bang my drum in efforts to urge parents to protect their developmentally disabled children from sexual violence. But I'm going to go one step further, because I hope to fan a sense of outrage in our community that forces action. Active and meaningful prevention must become more than a moral rule. It must become an enforceable law.

If you are the parent of a child with autism, you'd be wise to assume that your child will someday be a victim of sexual violence. In fact, I'd be willing to lay money on the fact that your child will suffer some variant of sexual violence before his/her eighteenth birthday.

You see, I used to be like you. I used to sit in my ivory tower and insist, "not my sons". Sadly, by denying any real dangers existed, I endangered my own child. As a result, my nonverbal child was sexually abused by a peer at the age of ten. He is far from alone in the misery he suffered as a result.

According to the Association for Retarded Citizens, the vast majority of persons living with a developmental disability such as mental retardation, autism or cerebral palsy, will experience some form of sexual assault or abuse during their life times. Another 1994 study found that 39 to 68 percent of girls and 16 to 30 percent of boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

Any prudent caregiver must come to understand that sexual violence is not an "if", but instead, a "when" situation. Even worse, the danger of sexual victimization increases proportionately to the victim's level of communicative impairment.

Keep in mind that these statistics cited by ARC only account for reported acts of sexual violence. Only an estimated 14% of such acts are ever bought to the attention of law enforcement. In turn, only 25% of those are ever investigated by police. Only 6 percent of alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and only 1 percent of these prosecutions end up with a conviction.

A study of 171 individual confirmed cases of abuse of women with disabilities revealed that friends, family members, group home staff and personal assistants were the abusers in 71 percent of cases.

If you still believe that your loved one with autism will never be sexually abused, you are either living in an ivory tower or you have chosen to remain blind.

Ignorance is a far cry from bliss. Reciting your "not my child" mantra protects your child from nothing. An ounce of prevention on my part might have saved my precious son a world of pain.

David could not name his accuser.

He could not testify to the crimes committed against him.

He could not ask for help.

Had the act not been witnessed, it would have gone unreported. I had no way of knowing if this first "reported" incident actually represented the *first time* my child ever endured sexual abuse.

You'd have thought that state officials charged to seeing to my son's welfare would have come rushing to the scene.

But they didn't.

As a parent, you cannot afford to assume that they will do any more to help your child than they did mine.

In the absence or meaningful protections, it is our duty as parents to protect our children. It really isn't a difficult job.

1) Know first hand that background checks are periodically performed on anyone charged with serving or caring for your child. Never assume an agency will "do this for you".

2) Know first hand what procedures are in place to prevent peer to peer sexual abuse.

3) Know first hand what meaningful preventives and reporting procedures are in place to protect disabled victims of sexual violence.

4) Protect your child. Rally your local law enforcement agencies to seek education in specialized interviewing methods and disability sensitivity, and point them towards reliable resource materials.

5) Take nothing for granted. Address your child's school board regarding the real sexual abuse risks to their developmentally disabled students. Find out what preventives are in place, and what curriculum skills are addressed to teach your child to protect himself. If there aren't any, ask that a task force immediately be assembled to address the problem. Volunteer to sit on it.

6) Make sure that all educational, therapeutic, churches, and medical providers are aware of laws that mandate reporting of suspected sexual abuse to Child or Adult Protective Services.

7) Take control of your child's education. Insert sexual awareness training into your child's IEP goals. Urge your educators to understand that it is never too early to begin teaching disabled children protective safety skills. Such skills, once learned in training must be practiced regularly.
8) Become the resource in your community. Educate yourself. Volunteer yourself as a speaker. Offer inservices free of charge.

9) Never trust anyone. Not a priest, not a rabbi, not even your own grandmother. By assuming the worst you will effectively reduce the chance that your child will ever suffer from sexual violence.

For a list of available training materials, visit the CAN do! Disability Outreach Project at http://disability-abuse.com/list.htm

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