The Virginia Institute of Autism is teaming up with other Charlottesville non-profits to prevent sexual abuse of children and adults with special needs.
Parents and educators gathered Wednesday evening for “Preventing Abuse of Children: A Free Workshop for Parents and Educators of Children with Disabilities,” spearheaded by VIA’s Family Resource Navigator, Hilary Nagel.
This free workshop armed adults with strategies to safeguard people with disabilities from sexual abuse. More than 7 in 10 people with disabilities say they have been abused, according to a recent national study by the Disability and Abuse Project.
Workshop leader Rachel Thielmann, from the Foothills Advocacy Center, recognized that parents of children with disabilites are already advocates for their children, and explained that learning how to prevent child abuse and ensure safe child care is one more way to advocate for their children.
Thielmann gave participants strategies for keeping children safe, such as making sure that when a child and adult are alone together, the situation is “observable and interruptible.” She also suggested that parents tell potential caregivers they have been trained in recognizing sexual abuse, and insist on background checks and written applications.
Participants worked together to troubleshoot barriers to protecting children with disabilities. A VIA instructor shared her strategy of using a bullseye to explain to children what kind of interaction is appropriate with their parents and siblings, friends and people in the community. While hugging might be appropriate with people in a child’s inner circle (family members), it is not appropriate with a stranger in the grocery store.
“I think it’s important for the whole community to get over a sense of reticence of talking about sexuality and predators and disability and say this is really important,” VIA parent Donna Cattell-Gordon told CBS19. “We have to learn to be better at this, and the only way we’re going to learn is to talk to each other, share our knowledge, and come up with a really good curriculum that will keep our kids safe.”