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Reducing the risk of child sex abuse for Autistic kids and children with differences & disabilities

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

>Though there is no specific discussion, please consider this a blanket trigger warning for sexual abuse of children for this entire article. It’s not a fun topic, but I hope you will read and utilize the suggested resources to help protect your child.<

The rates of abuse for disabled children and adults are staggering. The nature of crimes against child and adults with various disabilities and differences make it difficult to tell exactly how much sexual abuse is happening, but the data shows that children with developmental disabilities like Autism or intellectual disabilities are somewhere between four and ten times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than non-disabled or typical children. It doesn’t improve in adulthood either. Some studies have shown that the rates are as high as 90% for adult disabled women.

If this is new information for you, I’m very sorry that I had to be the one to tell you, but I am glad you know because now you can do something to help protect your child and other children as well.

Be suspicious: There are many things you can do. The first is to be aware that sexual abuse of Autistic children and adults and children and adults with other disabilities happen in all settings by people trusted to care for them (and sometimes other youth and adults sharing the same settings). It’s my personal conspiracy theory belief that pedophiles choose jobs to give them the greatest access to vulnerable children. Making schools, churches, sports, and after-school recreational programs places I am squinting eyes and watching closely. The majority of people arrested for child sex crimes have no previous record.

Communication: If your child doesn’t have a communication method, keep working on finding one. Whether they communicate easily or not, let them know that they are valued and believed to be competent. When they do communicate, trust them and let them know they will always be taken seriously.

Teach your child about their bodies and about boundaries that others need to adhere to. If the child needs assistance with toileting or dressing, this will mean you need to get very specific about what they should expect. Ask your school about bathroom policies. Encourage no one-on-one or open bathroom policies for students that need assistance. Advocate for cameras in SPED classrooms.

Teach them the correct names for body parts from the beginning. Explain parts for both sexes not just their own. Teach them that even you respect their bodies and their autonomy over them.

Talk to other adults about boundaries. Tell them your child knows about their bodies, and that they aren’t to be touched. It’s ok to make it weird. We are putting out the word that our kids are not the ones.

Reduce access: Eliminate one-on-one access to your child, if possible. Otherwise, make any time they have with other adults observable and interruptible.

Be aware of grooming: Often when grooming is discussed, it’s considered to be the actions a molester takes to get a child to trust them. It’s also the work they put in to get other adults to trust them enough to relinquish control of their children. Use that suspicion for anyone who wants alone access to your child.

Gut check?: Often, parents have no idea when a person has been found to have molested their child. It was someone they knew, trusted, and liked. Grooming has worked so well, the gut didn’t alert the parents to the danger. IF you get The Bad Vibe from someone, listen, but DO NOT rely on your gut to tell you that someone is safe.

Listen to your child: Believe what they tell you about people. Observe if they are uncomfortable around certain other people or if they don’t want to go to certain locations. Investigate the reasons for these. Look for behavior changes and nightmares. If your child discloses abuse to you, your first response should be, “I believe you, it’s not your fault.” The second should be, "let's get help."

Model consent and honor choices: never force. I mean almost anything. Resistance is a method of self-protection. Allow your child to learn that their boundaries are to be respected. Only force things that are life or limb.

Ask permission to come into their rooms--even if they aren't speaking. My child is a non-speaker. I always knock. Ask permission to hug or kiss them. Never force affection such as making them hug or kiss relatives or even you. This teaches them not to tolerate invasions of their bodies.

Get trained: For a simple and straightforward 2-hour course on how to prevent abuse and support child victims, I highly recommend taking the $10 online course through Darkness to Light. It covers what I’ve discussed here and more with greater detail and personal stories from adult survivors of sexual abuse. The course can be found here.

Our children are at greater risk of victimization. This is unfair and terrible, we do have the ability to make it much harder for offenders--to make our children too risky victims. Let's protect the next generation of Autistic and disabled kids.

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