Way back in January of 2018, while on my negligible commute, I tuned in to Minneapolis Public Radio for the local angle on NPR’s special series, “Abused and Betrayed.”
The conversation concerned the silent epidemic of sexual abuse among people with intellectual disabilities. It was guided by Marianne Combs, who was joined by NPR correspondent and special-series investigator Joseph Shapiro, sexuality educator Katie Thune, and attorney Patrick Noaker.
The guests’ words were powerful, but my driveway moment was attributable to the anguish expressed by the stories of parents and caregivers who called in to discuss the abuse sustained by their loved ones with disabilities.
The voice of an elderly woman who discussed the exploitation of her adult son was particularly memorable, and devastating. Her son has a traumatic brain injury, and, although able to live independently, he has limited cognition and social awareness. Years ago, a powerful man in the community approached him with a sexual proposition, claiming the arrangement would help “relieve stress” and allow the powerful man to “do his job better.” Her son agreed to the arrangement, believing that his actions were necessary and that he would be paid for the them.
Later, when her son learned of the man’s death, he explained to his mom that he would be inheriting money and why. While his mom was, of course, shocked and furious, the revelation fractured every member of the family. When the son didn’t receive money, he couldn’t understand why and accused his mother and siblings of stealing it.
The suffering communicated in the mom’s voice—an inexcusable exploitation, a wracked family, a compromised community, and a deceased man never held accountable for abuse—compelled me to reach out to Katie Thune to ask about turning her educational curriculum, Sexuality for All Abilities, into a book.
This week, I am very proud to say, Routledge released Sexuality for All Abilities: Teaching and Discussing Sexual Health in Special Education. We created it to give educators and others the tools and confidence required to teach topics in comprehensive sex education in the context of special education. In it, we draw on the expertise of educators, the experience of teachers, the stories of parents and caregivers, and the words of people with disabilities to inform lessons on healthy relationships, public and private spaces and behaviors, consent, hygiene, and other important topics necessary for living an informed life.
The book is a useful resource in and out of the classroom, but it’s also a contribution to the better civilization we strive to build—a civilization in which we acknowledge a wide range of individuals with varying abilities, and in which we seek to supply the education necessary to live as fully, safely, and with as much autonomy and pleasure as possible.