Tag Archives: Sexual Violence

For Some With Intellectual Disabilities, Ending Abuse Starts With Sex Ed

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Katy Park, who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum — a community service program for people with intellectual disabilities — starts a class on healthy sexuality by asking her students to define what they want in a relationship.

by Joseph Shapiro

In the sex education class for adults with intellectual disabilities, the material is not watered down. The dozen women and men in a large room full of windows and light in Casco, Maine, take on complex issues, such as how to break up or how you know you’re in an abusive relationship. And the most difficult of those issues is sexual assault.

Katy Park, the teacher, begins the class with a phrase they’ve memorized: “My body is my own,” Park starts as the rest join in, “and I get to decide what is right for me.”

People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate more than seven times that for people without disabilities. NPR asked the U.S. Department of Justice to use data it had collected, but had not published, to calculate that rate.

At a moment when Americans are talking about sexual assault and sexual harassment, a yearlong NPR investigation finds that people with intellectual disabilities are one of the most at-risk groups in America.

“This is really an epidemic and we’re not talking about it,” says Park, a social worker who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum, an agency based in Maine that provides activities in the community and support services for adults with intellectual disabilities. Those high rates of abuse — which have been an open secret among people with intellectual disabilities, their families and people who work with them — are why Park started this class about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality.

Because one of the best ways to stop sexual assault is to give people with intellectual disabilities the ability to identify abuse and to know how to develop the healthy relationships they want.

“Let’s talk about the positive parts of being in a relationship,” Park says, holding a marker while standing at a whiteboard, at the start of the class. “Why do we want to be in a relationship?”

“For love,” says one man. “And sexual reaction.”

“Romance,” adds a woman.

“How about support?” asks Lynne, a woman who speaks with a hushed voice and sits near the front of the class.

“Having support, right?” Park says, writing the word on the board. “We all want support.”

A participant helps Park hang the agenda on the wall at the start of class.

From working with the men and women here, Park realized they want to have relationships, love and romance. They see their parents, siblings and their friends in relationships. They see people in relationships when they watch TV or go to the movies. They want the same things as anyone else.

But it’s harder for them. When they were in school, most of the adults in this room say, they didn’t get the sex ed classes other kids got. Now, just going on a date is difficult. They probably don’t drive or have cars. They rely on public transportation. They don’t have a lot of money. They live at home with their parents or in a group home, where there’s not a lot of privacy.

And then there’s the one thing that really complicates romance for people with intellectual disabilities: those high rates of sexual abuse.

“Oftentimes, it actually is among the only sexual experience they’ve had,” says Park. “When you don’t have other healthy sexual experiences, how do you sort through that? And then the shame, and the layers upon layers upon layers.”

This class, she says, is about “breaking the chain, being empowered to say, ‘No. This stops with me.’ “

“I Think People Take Advantage”

The women and men come to Momentum during the week for different programs. They go kayaking and biking; they go to the library and do volunteer work at the local food bank. There’s a range of disability here. You can look at some of the men and women — maybe someone with Down syndrome — and see they have a disability. Others, even after you talk to them, you might not figure out they have an intellectual disability.

Like one small woman with short, choppy dark hair, streaked red.

She’s 22 now, but when she was 18, her boyfriend was several years older. She says he was controlling. He didn’t let her have a cellphone or go see her friends.

“He was strangling me and stuff like that,” says the woman. (NPR is not using her name.) “And he was, the R-word — I hate to say it, but rape.” She says he raped her eight times, hit her and kicked her. “So I don’t know how I’m alive today, actually. He choked me where I blacked out.”

She thinks she was an easy target for him, because of her mild intellectual disability. “I think people take advantage,” she says. “They like to take advantage of disabilities. I have disabilities, not as bad as theirs. But I think they like to take advantage, which is wrong. I hate that.”

A student takes notes in Park’s Relate class.

She says the class helped her better understand what she wanted, and had a right to, in a relationship. She’s got a kind and respectful boyfriend now.

Her friend Lynne listens and says she would like to find a boyfriend. But in her past, she has experienced repeated sexual abuse.

She talks about a time when she was 14 and “this older guy that knew us” forced her to have sex. She says she told people but no one believed her. The next year, when she was 15, she was sexually assaulted — this time by a boy at her school. “I was trying to scream,” she says, “but I couldn’t because he had his hand over my mouth, telling me not to say anything to anybody.”

Lynne, who is 38, says those rapes and others left her unable to develop relationships. “I couldn’t trust anyone,” she says. Lynne (NPR has agreed to identify her by her middle name) says this class has helped her realize she wants a real, romantic relationship and has taught her how to better find one.

“There’s A Lot Of Loneliness”

Katherine McLaughlin, a New Hampshire sex educator, developed the curriculum used by Momentum. She wrote it so that it uses concrete examples to describe things, to match the learning style of people with intellectual disabilities. It shows pictures and uses photographs.

McLaughlin says the main desire of adults with intellectual disabilities is to learn “how to meet people and start relationships. There’s a lot of loneliness.”

That loneliness leaves them vulnerable to getting into abusive relationships, she says, or to rape.

Sometimes, especially when they’re young, they can’t name what happened to them as a sexual assault. Because they didn’t get the education to identify it. “We don’t think of them as sexual beings. We don’t think of them as having sexual needs or desires,” McLaughlin says. “Often they’re thought of as children, even when they’re 50 years old.”

Sheryl White-Scott, a New York City internist who specializes in treating people with intellectual disabilities, estimates that at least half of her female patients are survivors of sexual assault. “In my clinical experience, it’s probably close to 50 percent, but it could be as high as 75 percent,” she says. “There’s a severe lacking in sexual education. Some people just don’t understand what is acceptable and what’s not.”

Most of the women and men at the class in Maine say they didn’t get sex ed classes, like other kids, when they were in school. Or if they did, it was the simplistic warnings, like the kind given to young children. “It’s easy to fall back on ‘good touch-bad touch’ sex ed,” says Michael Gill, the author of “Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency.” “That’s a lot of what they get.” And the usual warning about “stranger danger” can be unhelpful, because it’s not strangers but people they know and trust who are most likely to assault them.

Most rapes are committed by someone a victim knows. For women without disabilities, the person who assaults them is a stranger 24 percent of the time. NPR’s data from unpublished Justice Department numbers show the difference is stark for people with disabilities: The abuser is a stranger less than 14 percent of the time.

“Parents get this; professionals don’t,” says Nancy Nowell, a sexuality educator with a specialty in teaching people with developmental disabilities, an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability but also autism.

Park asks her students to weigh in on agreements with a thumbs up or a thumbs down during class.

Parents have significant reason to worry: Figuring out what’s a healthy relationship is difficult for any young person, and it can be even trickier if a person has an intellectual disability. People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to problems from rape to unwanted pregnancy. Some people with intellectual disabilities marry. A small number have children — and rely on family or others to support them as parents.

Still, says McLaughlin, parents often are reluctant to talk to their children with intellectual disabilities about sex. “Parents often feel, if I talk about it they will go and be sexual,” she says, and they fear that could make them targets for sexual assault.

But educators such as McLaughlin, Gill and Nowell argue the reverse: that comprehensive sexuality education is the best way to prevent sexual assault. “If people know what sexual assault is,” says Gill, an assistant professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, “they become empowered in what is sexuality and what they want in sexuality.”

Respect

Gill argues that a long history of prejudice and fear gets in the way. He notes early 20th century laws that required the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. That came out of the eugenics movement, which put faith in IQ tests as proof of the genetic superiority of white, upper-class Americans.

People with intellectual disabilities were seen as a danger to that order. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote in a 1927 opinion that ruled the state of Virginia could forcibly sterilize a young woman deemed “feebleminded.”

Carrie Buck was the daughter of a woman who lived at a state institution for people with intellectual disabilities. And when Buck became pregnant — the result of a rape — she was committed to a state institution where she gave birth and was declared mentally incompetent to raise the child. Buck was then forcibly sterilized to prevent her from getting pregnant again. There was evidence that neither Buck, nor her daughter, Vivian, was, in fact, intellectually disabled. In the first half of the 20th century, impoverished women who had children outside marriage were often ruled by courts to be “feebleminded.”

There was another myth in popular culture that people with intellectual disabilities were violent and could not control their sexual urges. Think about that staple of high school literature classes, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” The intellectually disabled Lennie can’t control himself when the ranch hand’s wife lets him stroke her hair. He becomes excited, holding her too tight, and accidentally strangles her.

The class in Maine aims to help these adults know what’s a healthy relationship and how to communicate how they feel about someone.

The main way this class differs from a traditional sex ed class is that — to help people with intellectual disabilities learn — the material is broken down and spread out over 10 sessions. Each class lasts for 2 1/2 hours. But the adults in the class are completely attentive for the entire session.

They do take a couple of very short breaks to get up and move around, including one break to dance. Everyone gets up when Park turns on the tape recorder and plays — just right for this group asking to be treated like adults — Aretha Franklin singing “Respect.” There is joyous dancing and shouts. And when the song is over, they go back to their seats and get back to work.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why do half of women have fantasies about being raped?

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There’s a wide range of sexual fantasies people have, ranging from entirely unrealistic to applicable to real life, sex with Superman through to banging on a plane.

But the fantasy of being raped, also known as nonconsent and forced sex fantasies, is common.

Sexual fantasies let you explore your sexuality, they’re what we use to get off in those harsh, cold wifi-free winters, and we get to use them in roleplay scenarios to make our sex lives even more fulfilling.

But this common fantasy is one that few of us feel comfortable sharing. It puts people on edge and makes us feel a bit wrong.

Recent research indicates that between 31% and 57% of women have fantasies in which they are forced into sex against their will. For 9% to 17% of those women, rape fantasies are their favourite or most frequent sexual fantasy.

It’s natural if that makes you feel alarmed.

In real-life contexts, rape – meaning sex against your will – is deeply traumatising. It’s not at all ‘sexy’. It’s an intense violation that causes high levels of distress.

Content warning: Those who find discussions of rape and sexual assault may find this article triggering. 

It seems strange that we’d use rape as the basis for our sexual fantasies – and yet so many of us do.

And it’s incredibly important to note that while rape fantasies are common, this does not mean that women secretly want to be raped. There is a huge difference between acted out role-play, imagined scenarios, and real-life experiences. No one asks to be raped, no one deserves to be raped, and how common forced sex fantasies are in no way justifies unwanted sexual contact of any nature.

It’s difficult to know exactly what these fantasies entail, because, well, they’re going on in someone else’s mind.

But the women we spoke to mentioned that their fantasies of forced sex steered away from experiences that would be close to reality.

Rather than lines of consent being crossed by friends or bosses, we fantasise about high drama situations in which we are forced to have sex to survive, entering into sexual contracts rather than having our right to consent taken away from us outright.

Amy*, 26, says a common fantasy is being kidnapped and held hostage, then having one of the guards forcing her into sex to keep her safe.

Tasha, 24, fantasises about thieves breaking into her house and being so attracted to her they have to have sex with her against her will.

In both scenarios, the women said they start out by resisting advances, then begin to enjoy the sex midway through. It’s giving up the fight and giving in to desire that’s the turn on, rather than the very real trauma of real-life rape.

But for other women, fantasies are more true to life. For some it’s not about feigned struggle, but imagining consent and control being ripped away as a major turn on.

Why is this? Why are so many of us aroused by forced sex when we’d be horrified by the reality of it? Why do we find the idea of rejecting sex then doing it anyway a turn on?

Dr Michael Yates, clinical psychologist at the Havelock Clinic, explains that there are a few theories.

The first is that women’s fantasies of nonconsensual sex are down to lingering guilt and shame around female sexuality.

‘For centuries (and sadly still all too regularly today), young women are taught to hide sexual feelings or encouraged to fit narrow gender stereotypes of the acceptable ways that female sexuality can be expressed in society,’ Michael tells Metro.co.uk. ‘As a result sex and sexual feelings are often accompanied by anxiety, guilt or shame.

‘One theory is that rape fantasies allow women to reduce distress associated with sex, as they are not responsible for what occurs, therefore have less need to feel guilt or shame about acting upon their own sexual desires or feelings.’

Essentially, lingering feelings of shame around taking agency over our own sexual desires can make us want to transfer them on to another body, thus giving us permission to fantasise about sexual acts. In our minds, it’s not us doing it, it’s all the other person, meaning we don’t have to feel guilty or dirty.

This explains why most rape fantasies don’t tend to be extremely violent, and why the women I asked reported resisting at first before having an enjoyable experience (which real-life rape is definitely not).

‘More often than not, most people who have rape fantasies imagine a passionate scene with very little force, based around the “victim” being so desirable that the “rapist” cannot control themselves, while the victim generally does not feel the terror, confusion, rage and disgust of an actual rape,’ says Michael.

The second theory is down to the dominant narratives shown in media and porn. It’s suggested that because our media and porn so often show men being dominant and losing control around a meek, deeply attractive woman, that’s simply how we envision ideal sex in our fantasies.

Take a flip through classic erotic literature, or even just look at the covers, and you’ll be confronted by strong men grabbing weak, swooning women.

‘Although rarely do these novels portray rape or sexual assault explicitly, they do play into the idea of a female sexual role as succumbing to the dominant role of male sexuality,’ notes Michael. ‘One whereby men can act upon their sexual urges at the point they choose (with the female having little power to object).’

So that might be the why – but what about the who? Does having fantasies about being raped mean anything about us? Are certain types of women more likely to have fantasies of being raped?

As with most sexual fantasies, it’s really not something to panic about.

Complete Article HERE!

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When “No” Isn’t Enough And Sexual Boundaries Are Ignored

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Violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize sexual abuses in the moment.

By Sherronda J. Brown

I recently realized that sex is unhealthy for me. Not sex in theory. No, of course not. Sex is healthy for our bodies and even our hearts and minds.When I say that sex is unhealthy for me, I mean the kind of sex that I have experienced — an experience that I share with many women, femmes, and bottoms. The sex where my needs are neglected and my boundaries are ignored in favor of whatever desires my partner may have.

Not everyone experiences sex and the things surrounding it in the same way, for various reasons. Some of those reasons might include gender cultivation, (a)sexuality, choice of sexual expression, knowledge of self/knowledge one’s own (a)sexuality, or relationship with one’s own body. Some of those reasons might include how certain body types are deemed “normal” and acceptable while others are only ever fetishized or demonized.

Some of those reasons might include the fact certain folks are told that they should be grateful that anyone would even be willing to look at them, let alone touch or love them, while others are expected to always be available for sexual contact. Some of those reasons might include the fact that some people are afforded certain permissions to make decisions about their sex and love life without being eternally scrutinized, while others are nearly always assumed to be sexually irresponsible.

Some of those reasons might include past or current trauma and abuse. And a host of other reasons not mentioned here, or reasons that you or I have never even considered because they’re not a factor in our personal story.

I’m not straight. I’m just an asexual with a libido—infrequent as it may be—and a preference for masculine aesthetic and certain genitalia. Most of the sex that I have had is what we would consider to be “straight” sex, and I am fairly certain that I would enjoy the act more and have a healthier relationship with it if more sexual partners were willing to make the experience comfortable and safe for me. Instead, men seem to want to make sex as uncomfortable and painful as possible for their partners, whether consciously or unconsciously, regardless of whether or not that is what we want.

Many men seem to judge their sexual partners abilities the same way that they gauge how much we love them and how deep our loyalty goes — by how much pain we can endure. I say this based on my personal experience, as well as the experiences of many of the people around me who have been gracious and trusting enough to share with me their testimony. Many of us have been conditioned to measure ourselves in the same way, using our ability to endure pain as a barometer for our worth.

Not only do we need to address the fact that far too many women have sex when they don’t want to because it’s “polite”, but we also need to talk about how many of us, of various genders, are having sex that is painful and/or uncomfortable in ways that we don’t want it to be, but we endure it for the sake of being polite, amiable, or agreeable. Many times, we also endure it for our safety.

This goes beyond simply not speaking up about what we want during sex. It’s also about us not being able to speak up about our boundaries and limits without fear of the situation turning violent. The truth is that many of us have quietly decided in our heads, “I would rather suffer through an uncomfortable/painful sexual situation than a violent one, or one that I might not survive.” This is about too many men not being able to tell the difference between a scripted pornographic situation or a story of sexual violence.

There have been too many times when I have been engaged in sexual situations and told my partner that I did not want a particular sexual act done to me, and they proceeded to do it anyway, with no regard for my boundaries, comfort, or safety. I gave them a valid reason for why I did not want the particular sexual act done to me, but I didn’t have to. My “No” should have been enough.

I once had to blatantly ask a guy if he understood what the word “No” meant. He had been attempting to persuade me into performing a sexual act that I was not interested in and had already declined several times. Therefore, it seemed a valid question.

“Yea, I do,” He responded. “It means keep going.” His answer did not stop there, but I will spare you the totality of the violent picture that he painted for me with his subsequent vulgarities. His voice was steady with a seriousness I dared not question. There was anger behind it, but also excitement and pride. The very thought of ignoring my “No” seemed to arouse him, even as he was filled frustration at my audacity to ask him such a question. I abruptly ended the phone call, grateful that this conversation had not been in-person. A chill came over me and I felt the urge to cry. My head and neck ran hot and the rise and fall of my chest quickened. Anxiety gripped me as I remembered that he knew where I lived and my panic drew out for weeks.

This is only one of my stories. I have others that include blatant disregard of boundaries, harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. I spent much of the last year contemplating the many ways that I have been coerced, manipulated, or even forced into sexual situations or sexual acts in the past, and how this violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize these abuses in the moment. Instead, they come back to fuck with us days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries after the fact.

It took me more than seven years to realize that the first guy I ever had sex with coerced me into it. Literally trapped me in his apartment and refused to take me home until I gave in. After this, he went on to violate my trust and disregard my sexual boundaries in other ways until I ended our “friendship.” It took me months to name the time a former partner admitted to having once removed the condom during our encounter without my knowledge or consent as a sexual violation.

Unfortunately, I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have stories like mine. And these stories belong to many people of other genders, or without gender, as well. This is our “normal,” and that is not okay. We need a broader understanding of what sexual violence and misconduct look like, and we need to deal with the fact that they are more a part of our everyday lives and common experiences than some of us are willing to admit.

We have to stop thinking of sexual violence and misconduct as something that only happens when someone is physically assaulted, drugged, or passed out. It’s far more than being groped by your boss, or terminated or otherwise punished for rejecting their advances. In a world where people do not feel safe saying “No,” not only to sex itself but also to certain sexual acts and types of sex, we cannot go on talking about sexual violence as if rape and harassment are the only true crimes. In doing this, we are leaving people behind.

The ways in which our bodies and boundaries can be violated are abundant. Too abundant. Fuck everyone who ever made another person feel like they couldn’t safely say “No.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Poll: Americans differ on what constitutes sexual harassment

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By Chris Kahn

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What is tantric sex, and how can it help heal sexual trauma?

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By Brook Bolen

Conversations about sexual violence and trauma have long been overdue but are finally happening. Conversations about how survivors of sexual violence endure and overcome their trauma is of equal importance — and with symptoms ranging from emotional to physical to psychological, physiological, and sexual, there are a host of repercussions. Experts estimate that one in six women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape; similarly, while the precise number is not known, professionals estimate that one in four women will be sexually abused before the age of 18. For many of these women, some of whom have been victimized as adults and children, the struggle to maintain or achieve a fulfilling relationship with their sexuality can be chronic and long-lasting.

While traditional kinds of talk therapy, such as psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy, are often helpful in overcoming trauma, they are not always sufficient — particularly where sex and sexuality are concerned. Somatic therapy, which is a type of body-centered therapy that combines psychotherapy with various physical techniques, recognizes that trauma can be as much a part of the body as of the mind. “Somatic” comes from the Greek word soma, which means “body.” According to somatic therapy, trauma symptoms are the result of an unstable autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our past traumas disrupt the ANS and can manifest themselves in a wide variety of physical symptoms. This type of holistic approach can be especially useful for survivors of sexual violence.

Staci Haines, somatic teacher, practitioner, and author of Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, agrees. In a 2007 interview with SF Gate, she said, “Many people can understand intellectually what happened to them, but put them in a stressful situation like having sex, and their bodies continue to respond as they did during the abuse. … That’s why somatic therapy is so powerful for recovery. Survivors learn to thaw out the trauma that is stored in their body. They learn to relax and experience physical pleasure, sexual pleasure.”

Most Americans’ understanding of tantra is limited to Sting’s now-infamous boast about his seven-hour lovemaking prowess — but tantra is actually a type of somatic therapy. As such, tantra can be used to help people achieve the same types of goals as traditional talk therapy does, such as better relationships, deeper intimacy, and a more authentic life. Furthermore, while tantra frequently incorporates sexuality into its focus, it’s not solely about sex — though that seems to be how it is most commonly perceived in the West.

Devi Ward, founder of the Institute of Authentic Tantra Education, uses the following definition of tantra for her work: “Tantra traditionally comes from India; it’s an ancient science that uses different techniques and practices to integrate mind, body, and spirit. It’s a spiritual practice whose ultimate goal is to help people fully realize their entitlement to full pleasure. We also use physical techniques to cultivate balance. The best way I have of describing it is it’s a form of yoga that includes sexuality.”

Internationally acclaimed tantra teacher Carla Tara tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “There are about 3,000 different definitions of tantra. One of them is this: Tantra is an interweaving of male and female energies, not just one or the other. I start there. Having both energies means knowing how to give and receive equally. Its basis is equanimity. It’s the foundation for conscious loving and living.”

Using equanimity as a starting point for individual or couples therapy can be useful in every facet of life, but particularly for survivors of sexual violence. “Tantra is important to any kind of healing,” says Tara, “because it teaches you to be present through breathing. Deep, conscious breathing is nourishing for every cell of your body. And they were not nourished when you were abused; they were damaged. This kind of breathing teaches you to be present. These breathing techniques help stop you from returning to the past. This makes it so powerful, and that feeling is so important for people who have been abused. Most people go first to psychotherapy, but for people who have survived sexual violence, it takes touching, not just talk, to heal.”

Yoga’s mental and physical health benefits are well established, making the addition of sexuality an even more promising tool for people struggling to have a more fulfilling sex life. “We use somatic healing,” Ward, who teaches individual and couples classes on-site in British Columbia and internationally, tells Yahoo Lifestyle via Skype. “When we’re traumatized, the body can become tense and tight where we have been injured. We refer to this as body armoring, because the body is storing the trauma in its cells. That kind of tight defensiveness can be impenetrable. But here’s the beautiful thing: When the nervous system is relaxed, it releases trauma. And that is a healing practice. We know that trauma gets stored in the body. Through combining meditation, sexual pleasure, and breathing practice, the body can then learn to let go and release that trauma. And that can look like tears, laughter, orgasms. It depends on the trauma and the person.”

Single or partnered, tantra can be beneficial for anyone looking to have a happier, healthier sex life. “The most promising sexual relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves,” says Ward. “If we don’t have that, how can we expect to show up for our partners? We all deserve to have a celebratory, delightful relationship with our body, but if we have unresolved trauma, we bring all that to our relationship. A lot of relationships we are in tend to be dysfunctional because of our unresolved trauma and wounding.”

When it comes to using tantra to heal from sexual trauma, reading alone won’t cut it. Expert assistance, most often offered in person and online, is recommended. “There [is help for] certain muscle tensions, and things like that, that you can’t get from a book,” says Tara. “You need a person to guide you.” Ward echoes this idea: “Especially if you’re healing trauma, it’s best to have a coach. Humans learn best through modeling. Reading is great, but nothing can substitute what we learn from follow-the-leader.”

Healing from sexual violence is a daunting task, and everyone who struggles to do so has their own personal journey to healing. Each person’s recovery is unique, and tantra can help every survivor. “The body is designed to heal itself,” says Ward. “We just have to learn how to relax and let it happen.”

Complete Article HERE!

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