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New Report Focuses On Protecting Arizona Kids With Disabilities From Sexual Abuse In School

By Kathy Ritchie
Published: Monday, May 17, 2021 - 5:46am
Updated: Tuesday, May 18, 2021 - 12:27pm

The Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, along with the Arizona Response to Sexual Violence and I/DD Collaborative, released a new report that aims to protect students with disabilities from sexual abuse and exploitation at school. And the report includes best practices for schools.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped — and the likelihood is 12 times greater for females.

Melissa Van Hook chairs the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. During a Zoom call with educators, she talked about the challenges facing these families.

"What was discovered was that individuals and families are not receiving the information they needed to be safe as possible," she said. "What makes things even harder for these families is that when some kids with disabilities get into their teen years, families feel like they're walking in the dark. They're struggling with balancing their wants, their loved ones needs for dating, and relationships, with also being over protective, at the same time that their youth are trying to seek some autonomy."

It's a dilemma, said Van Hook, that many parents of children and teens with a disability experience.

"How do we keep our loved one safe, while allowing them to be a teenager and develop a sense of self?"

And she said there's a huge need for kids and teens with intellectual and developmental disabilities to learn what is acceptable behavior and how to respond appropriately to others in environments where they're typically taught to comply with every direction. 

"In fact, I think we hold our kids to a higher standard, particularly if they're in special education," she said. "They're monitored closely to follow the rules and do exactly what they're told. It's a little rough — not the same instance for kids without disabilities."

The report recommended things like stronger duty-to-report laws, accessible lessons on sexual health and relationships, and strategies to support students who report abuse. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to include all the groups involved in the new report. 

Education Disability