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Pages of Good Advice About 'Bad Touches' : New Self-Help Guide for Disabled Persons

March 05, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

The picture shows two cartoon-style pen-and-ink figures, a young woman clutching her unbuttoned blouse, a man pulling on his pants and reminding her, "This will be our little secret." The drawing, explains the text, illustrates "bad touch," also called assault.

It is a page from "Survivor," a manual designed to protect people with developmental disabilities who have been or are at risk of being sexually exploited. Spokeswomen at the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women estimate that 99% of the developmentally disabled population probably have been victims.

The booklet and its companion volume for family members, advocates and care-providers for the developmentally disabled, produced by the commission, contain anatomically correct drawings of naked figures and no-punches-pulled sketches depicting acts of sexual violence.

Shocking? "Sure, it is," said Nora J. Baladerian, a sex counselor who was the principal writer. Baladerian, who works with developmentally disabled and emotionally disturbed teens, added, "But it's more shocking to have it done to you."

Three thousand copies of "Survivor," a 78-page large-print, binder format handbook, have been printed for distribution to the developmentally disabled through social service agencies and other care providers, and 5,000 copies of the companion volume have been made available to hospital emergency room personnel, police and other professionals.

The "Survivor" guide is designed for victims who may be of any chronological age but who read best with few words, with IQs in the range of 30 to 60. Thus, it does not talk about intercourse but about "good touches" (such as holding hands with a friend) and "bad touches" (a girl having her breasts fondled by her grandfather).

Rape? Rape is "a very bad assault . . . this is when a person makes you do sex things you don't want to do."

"Developmentally disabled people require concrete examples" and step-by-step definitions, Baladerian said.

Generally, she said, "The developmentally disabled are left out of any sex education programs in the schools."

Patricia Giggans, executive director of the Commission on Assaults Against Women, acknowledged that there has been scattered negative reaction to the publication, a belief that the problem is best ignored. But, according to Baladerian, there has been no organized opposition. Tawnya Jackson, project director for "Survivor," said there is "some discomfort" about addressing the issue of sexual violence against the developmentally disabled--"People want to deny that it's going on."

Sexual physical abuse of the developmentally disabled is no isolated phenomenon, the professionals say, and almost always, Baladerian said, the perpetrator is "someone they know and trust," such as a family member or someone they see every day.

"Survivor" zeroes in on the basics, such as what to do in the event of a "bad touch"--"Get away fast. Tell someone. Get help." There are repeated reminders to the victim that a sexual assault is not the victim's fault and that the victim will not get into trouble by telling someone.

The manual espouses such simple self-defense techniques as screaming loudly, "Stop that!" In the event of a rape, it counsels, go with a friend or parent to an emergency room, and it tells the victim what to expect once there, including the physical examination.

Feelings and Rights

Feelings are also addressed--feeling dirty, feeling guilty, angry, afraid. And so are rights--"You have a right to say what happens with your body. Nobody should touch you if you don't think it's OK."

There is no reliable data on the exact numbers of survivors of sexual attack who are developmentally disabled. But there have been private studies and one, by the Seattle Rape Relief Project, found that 75% of the developmentally disabled it studied had survived at least one sexual assault, 99% of the time at the hands of someone known to them. Other physical abuse is also commonplace. Reporting rates are probably low, professionals say, because the victim frequently is dependent upon the assailant for basic needs and because of the victim's lack of awareness of the benefits of reporting such an incident.

In fact, according to Baladerian, the exact number of developmentally disabled in the population is not known. The commonly used figure is 3% but, she pointed out, "they're not all identified" and some may be borderline functional.

The Commission on Assaults Against Women, a nonprofit organization funded by the city, United Way, individuals and foundations, has been offering sexual assault counseling since its founding in 1971.

The "Survivor" manual (single copies free) is available from LACAAW Survivor Special Project, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles 90036. Information on bulk orders is available at (213) 655-4235.

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