Relationships are an important part of life. But they can be difficult. They can also require a lot of work. There are important skills we all need to learn to help us build and maintain strong relationships.
Some people with an intellectual disability are not given the chance to develop relationship skills. Some are shut out of conversations about sex. Others are not given fair choices about relationships. Without these opportunities it is hard to learn about what is important in relationships.
Talk about relationships
A new program invites people with an intellectual disability to come and talk about relationships. Participants can learn about topics like rights, responsibilities and safety.
The program is called Living Safer Sexual Lives: Respectful Relationships. It is run through the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University. It has been funded by the Federal Government until July 2011. The program has been run in three locations around Victoria. It has also been run in Tasmania.
The program caters to small groups of people with an intellectual disability. The sessions are lead by peer educators who identify as having an intellectual disability. The program uses activities and stories.
The rights explained in the program include:
- The right to privacy
- The right to be treated like an adult
- The right to have sexual relationships.
The program uses stories told by people with an intellectual disability. They describe their own experiences in relationships. I was lucky enough to hear some of the stories. They were fantastic. Many stories emphasised how important it is to have choices in our lives. Many stories were told by people who had important decisions made for them. Some of the choices included privacy, sex and having children.
I think peer education is a brilliant idea. It means you can learn from someone who you identify with. You can learn from someone who faces similar challenges to you. You can learn from someone who has come up with solutions that might fit your situations.
Rachael is one of the peer educators.
At first I was nervous about being a peer educator, Rachael says.
But then I started to really like it. There was support from the program team. We have co-facilitators to help too. The facilitator for my group was a TAFE teacher.
Rachael now feels more confident travelling and doing public speaking. She also says
it is good to be rewarded for your work. Rachael likes the good feedback that the program receives. She is also rewarded by the income she receives for her work.
When participants see facilitators with intellectual disabilities they often want to become peer educators too.
Dr Patsie Frawley is a researcher at La Trobe University. She is manager of the Living Safer Sexual Lives program. Dr Frawley says people with an intellectual disability are at an increased risk of sexual abuse. Some studies have indicated that people with an intellectual disability are three times more likely to experience sexual assault than the general population. Dr Frawley says the program aims to help prevent violence and abuse.
Many people who have participated in the program have had positive feedback. They have told the organisers that they learned a lot about relationships. They also learned about getting people to respect them.
Participant Abby says her favourite part of the program was the opportunity to talk about her relationships. Another participant says
it’s been good because a lot of the (attendees) didn’t know that much about relationships and how they can turn out for the worse.