Recognizing Boundaries: Helping the Developmentally Disabled Stay Safe

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Recognizing Boundaries: Helping the Developmentally Disabled Stay Safe


by Laurie Waters
YWCA Metro St. Louis

This is the YWCA Week Without Violence, and the entire month of October is dedicated to raising awareness as it is both Domestic Violence Month and Disability Awareness Month. So what better time to highlight a program here at YWCA Metro St. Louis that frequently finds itself combating these issues on all fronts? It is called SHADE, which stands for Sexual Health and Disability Education.

Under the umbrella of our Sexual Assault Center, SHADE offers classes for individuals with disabilities and community outreach to families, caregivers, agencies and their staff. Some of the general public may be unaware of the dangers faced by those living with developmental disabilities; the statistics are sobering. One published report studying adults who have developmental disabilities found that 83% of females and 32% of males are victims of sexual assault. What’s more, other studies have found that women with disabilities experience an increased severity of multi-faceted violence, including disability-targeted violence, and they suffer that violence for longer periods of time.

Here at YWCA Metro St. Louis, Jessica Naslund is the educator, the “face,” of SHADE. Frequently, it is Jessica who is the first person to hear a victim say, “Somebody did that to me.” Why is that the case?  Why Jessica, and not a relative or a caregiver? It isn’t just because she carefully establishes trust and a safe environment, but also because her class, for individuals with developmental disabilities, may be the first time a victim learns the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching, healthy and unhealthy relationships, and choice and personal boundaries. Once an individual learns those concepts, Jessica says “the floodgates open.” Jessica says she is humbled by the trust placed in her and, while it is never easy to hear these stories of abuse and assault, identifying it as such provides SHADE the opportunity to bring in other information and resources for that individual. Holding workshops for family members, facilitating staff training, and providing counseling are additional tools in SHADE’s efforts to lessen the chances of an individual being victimized.

This important work serving residents in the City of St. Louis is funded through a grant from the St. Louis Office for Developmental Disability Resources. YWCA Metro St. Louis is grateful for that funding and for the opportunity it gives us to serve a decidedly under-served population.

After nearly 25 years as a television news anchor and reporter on the CBS affiliate in St. Louis, Laurie Waters recently found a new mission with the YWCA. As Marketing and Communications Manager for YWCA Metro St. Louis, Laurie is excited to publicize the excellent work being done here in the areas of homelessness, economic empowerment, sexual violence, early education, youth development and racial justice.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ blog carnival on issues of violence in all forms. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story on your blog or website, and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.