Sex abuse high for disabled

Last updated 13:00 23/12/2013

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A Nelson disability advocate says more than 90 per cent of intellectually disabled people will experience sexual assault in their lifetime.

Annette Milligan is the director of INP Medical Clinic, which runs a sexual assault service for adolescents and adults. She also offers free training in child protection through the Safeguarding Children Initiative.

She said the figures she commonly quoted in public information seminars were from an American study by University of Alberta scholar Dick Sobsey.

She said a study showed that between 90 per cent and 98 per cent of people with intellectual disabilities would experience sexual abuse; 80 per cent of these people would experience more than one incidence of abuse, and 49 per cent would undergo more than 10 incidents.

Milligan said further studies suggested 68 per cent of intellectually disabled girls and 30 per cent of intellectually disabled boys would experience sexual assault before their 18th birthday.

"Let's not get caught up in the percentages, though. It's a lot. A lot."

She said the high incidence was due to the vulnerability of intellectually disabled people, saying the rates of abuse were especially high for those who had high physical needs or were unable to speak. Milligan said the abuse often came from their peer group, but it could be "right across the spectrum".

"[An abuser] could be somebody from outside their family group or right in the middle of their world."

She said she had no specific information about how many intellectually disabled people in Nelson might have been abused, but was disturbed that not one had sought assistance from INP's sexual assault service since it was founded three years ago.

"While I don't know what's going on in Nelson, I don't believe that Nelson will be any different to any other part [of the world.]"

Milligan has developed a series of flipbook guides named "Me" for people with intellectual disabilities. The illustrated guides use simple language to explain how to set personal boundaries and navigate situations such as toileting, masturbation and sexual relationships.

She said intellectually disabled people deserved to have sexual relationships "in a loving context" but often missed out on sex education because they tended to be "infantalised". Milligan also said such a fraught topic was a big ask for parents who were already stretched. "If you're struggling with a child with an intellectual disability, the last thing you want to think about is sex and sexuality."

She plans to roll out her "Me" books internationally and in ebook format early next year.

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- © Fairfax NZ News


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