Transcript From working with the men and women here, Park realized they want to have relationships, love and romance. They see their parents, siblings and their friends in relationships. They see people in relationships when they watch TV or go to the movies. They want the same things as anyone else. But it's harder for them.
When they were in school, most of the adults in this room say, they didn't get the sex ed classes other kids got. Now, just going on a date is difficult. They probably don't drive or have cars. They rely on public transportation.
They don't have a lot of money. They live at home with their parents or in a group home, where there's not a lot of privacy. And then there's the one thing that really complicates romance for people with intellectual disabilities: And then the shame, and the layers upon layers upon layers. This stops with me. Brianna Soukup for NPR hide caption toggle caption A participant helps Park hang the agenda on the wall at the start of class.
They go kayaking and biking; they go to the library and do volunteer work at the local food bank. There's a range of disability here. You can look at some of the men and women — maybe someone with Down syndrome — and see they have a disability. Others, even after you talk to them, you might not figure out they have an intellectual disability. Like one small woman with short, choppy dark hair, streaked red. She's 22 now, but when she was 18, her boyfriend was several years older.
She says he was controlling. He didn't let her have a cellphone or go see her friends. NPR is not using her name. He choked me where I blacked out. I have disabilities, not as bad as theirs. But I think they like to take advantage, which is wrong. She's got a kind and respectful boyfriend now. Her friend Lynne listens and says she would like to find a boyfriend. But in her past, she has experienced repeated sexual abuse. She talks about a time when she was 14 and "this older guy that knew us" forced her to have sex.
She says she told people but no one believed her. The next year, when she was 15, she was sexually assaulted — this time by a boy at her school. Lynne NPR has agreed to identify her by her middle name says this class has helped her realize she wants a real, romantic relationship and has taught her how to better find one. She wrote it so that it uses concrete examples to describe things, to match the learning style of people with intellectual disabilities. It shows pictures and uses photographs.
McLaughlin says the main desire of adults with intellectual disabilities is to learn "how to meet people and start relationships. There's a lot of loneliness. A student takes notes in Park's Relate class. Because they didn't get the education to identify it. We don't think of them as having sexual needs or desires," McLaughlin says. Some people just don't understand what is acceptable and what's not. Or if they did, it was the simplistic warnings, like the kind given to young children.
Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency. Most rapes are committed by someone a victim knows. For women without disabilities, the person who assaults them is a stranger 24 percent of the time. NPR's data from unpublished Justice Department numbers show the difference is stark for people with disabilities: The abuser is a stranger less than 14 percent of the time.
Parents have significant reason to worry: Figuring out what's a healthy relationship is difficult for any young person, and it can be even trickier if a person has an intellectual disability.
People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to problems from rape to unwanted pregnancy. Some people with intellectual disabilities marry. A small number have children — and rely upon family or others to support them as parents. Still, says McLaughlin, parents often are reluctant to talk to their children with intellectual disabilities about sex.
Park asks her students to weigh in on agreements with a thumbs up or a thumbs down during class. He notes early 20th century laws that required the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. That came out of the eugenics movement, which put faith in IQ tests as proof of the genetic superiority of white, upper-class Americans.