Changing the Prevention Narrative about People with Disabilities

This is a call to action to my colleagues who work with people with disabilities. Let’s band together and push the narrative about sexual violence primary prevention for and with people with disabilities in today’s national discussion. Back in January, NPR released the series Abused and Betrayed about sexual violence and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In the series, Joseph Shapiro mentions prevention, however the prevention focus was around individuals and interpersonal level prevention impact (versus community, organizational, and societal level prevention impact). In other words, the answer to combat the pervasive sexual violence was education for people with disabilities about healthy sexuality.


Education is necessary but insufficient to change rape culture. The barriers to individual healthy relationship and sexuality skill building for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities (namely guardianship or lack of cultural competency) were not clearly identified in the NPR series. This public narrative makes it seem like ending sexual violence is a matter of individual skill and knowledge: if only people would make the right choices, then the would not be victimized. People with cognitive disabilities are already combatting infantilization and I fear the public narrative about “making good choices” just reiterates that social norm for people who are made vulnerable by social isolation.


I hope that you can take a bit of time today to engage directly with Mr. Shapiro (who researched and reported the series) live on Facebook at 3:00 pm EST. Mr. Shapiro will be joined by Leigh Ann Davis, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives for The Arc, during this online event, which will include a Q&A session. Be sure to like and follow The Arc on Facebook to be notified when the event goes live.


There are people out there in prevention land who are engaging in innovative organizational and community level primary prevention to foster conditions where violence is just not tolerated. ICADV calls on you to engage in this national discussion to help people understand that prevention is so much more than knowing how to “make the right choice.” Tell everyone what you are doing in your communities to eliminate violence for and with people with disabilities. Tell the world and help build a new narrative where all humans are deserving of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments.




Cierra Olivia Thomas-Williams
ICADV Prevention Specialist