|Photo Credit: Sign saying STOP SEX-ED with a red X through the words carried by a protester regarding the new curriculum in Ontario|
Protection gives abusers permission. Put simply, that's been the experience of people with intellectual, and often other disabilities, whose access to information regarding their bodies and their right to refuse unwanted touch was restricted by those who claimed that ignorance of the facts about sexuality was protection from the dangers of sexuality. They were tragically wrong. I have been, and continue to be, an advocate for the right of people with intellectual disabilities to have access to information and the right to attend and participate in sex education classes. In the early days there were those who were convinced that the sky would fall the moment we taught someone with a disability the correct names for their body parts, what those body parts were for, and their right to healthy boundaries.
The sky did not fall.
But abusers were put on alert.
We found two things which, I think, illuminate the discussion that's presently raging regarding the new sex education curriculum in Ontario. The very first sex education classes I taught were to people with disabilities where the average age was in the mid forties, the group was very difficult to teach. Not because they have a disability related to learning but because, in the absence of information, they learned anyway. We discovered that each of them, every one, had been on a sex education curriculum designed by the media.
They learned about relationships from soap operas.
They learned about body image from commercials.
They learned that a woman's no did not mean 'no' - it meant try harder.
They learned that gentle men were losers and callous men were sexy.
They learned that force wasn't force it was passion.
They learned that it took seconds to fall in love.
They learned that love was expressed only, and best, by sex.
Each person in those classes came there fully informed about sexuality. Every time they turned on the television, they had learned. Every time they listened to a song on the radio, they had learned. Every time they opened a magazine, they had learned. Every time they saw a billboard, they learned. They had been surrounded by sexual information and sexual messages and as they had no accurate information with which to understand what they were hearing and seeing, they did what was reasonable. They believed the messages.
Premier Wynne, the result of 'protection' from information for people with disabilities had tragic consequences, beyond even this. Statistics have consistently shown that people with intellectual disabilities suffer extremely high rates of sexual abuse. Keeping people from information simply made them good victims.
They were denied the language with which to report abuse.
They were denied the understanding of their right to appropriate boundaries.
They were denied the information necessary regarding how to report abuse.
They were denied the right to use a powerful and informed voice.
As you know, this has changed in Ontario. People with intellectual disabilities are now required to receive abuse prevention training across the province. People thought the sky would fall when the legislation went into effect.
The sky did not fall.
But power shifted under the feet of abusers.
The courageous act of the government to tackle the issue of abuse by empowering people with information, with language and with voice has altered the landscape of service provision. I believe that the stated goal of the curriculum - that students become safer and stronger - is not only timely but a worthy goal of any government regarding the children it serves.
Stay the course.