The ignored curriculum

It’s been a torrid few months in terms of violence against women, another mass murder in WA, the remains of missing woman, Colleen Adams (went missing in 1973) were found in a backyard in Maitland and an ever increasing death toll of women in Australia. October has been particularly confronting in terms of violence against women.

For many years now the conversation has been centred on how we, society, can stop these deaths and what role each of us play in shifting the way we look at women: at school, in the community, at work and in the family home. Education has been key to all of this: programs such as Respectful Relationships and (to my relief) a huge uptake in Ethics classes in our mainstream public schools to help our kids find their way through this difficult world.

Part of advocacy though is to give voices to those who cannot or are unable to speak for themselves.

So what about those not in mainstream education? What about women with intellectual disabilities? Apparently no-one thought to consider these women, as there didn’t appear to be a need. Sadly there is limited data on the rate of sexual assaults against women with intellectual disabilities (this really needs to be addressed) reports are purporting that a woman with a disability is 40% more likely to be victims of domestic violence. A second report purports that 70 per cent of women with disabilities had been victims of violent sexual encounters. So what can be done?

Now thanks to the incredible advocates at People with Disability Australia (PWDA) there is a new program called Sexuality and Respectful Relationships. It’s designed for women with intellectual disabilities FOR women with intellectual disabilities. That’s how advocacy works for the betterment of society, in consultation with the people at the receiving end of a program.

PWDA have trained eight New South Wales women as peer educators to run courses across the state of NSW. Wollongong mentor Chloe Kearns, 17, is quoted as calling it the “ignored curriculum”. Talking with the ABC a few weeks ago she went on to say, “A lot of my peers in mainstream education get taught about domestic violence, abuse, safe relationships and how to have a healthy lifestyle in a relationship and a good sex education, unlike me in a support unit. We get life skills and that’s it. We don’t even touch base with it. I think sexuality should be a normal thing in our lives, because other people get that, like my peers.”

PWDA senior policy officer Meredith Lea, also talking with the ABC said “We’ve spoken to people with disability about the fact that they were excluded from sex and relationships education in school settings, either because they were physically excluded from that class, or it might be that they had an intellectual disability and they were seen to not require that education for their lives. It’s a huge and very serious gap,” she said. “It can mean that people experience violence and they don’t necessarily recognise it as such because they’ve not had any information provided to them about what is good touch, what is bad touch.”

She goes on to say “I’ve been in a disability support unit all my life and I’ve had a lot of friends fall victim of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and abuse.” Even more concerning was her final statement:

“A lot of these girls had no idea where to go to.” So this program will offer not only an education and safe environment for the women to learn about sexual assault there will also be a practical element to it regarding where and how to report an assault.

The project is funded through the New South Wales Domestic and Family Violence Innovation Fund.

• Women Dead in October (to date 19/10/18): 8

• Women Dead in 2018 so far: 55

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