International Youth Day 2014

Drawings to explain Human Body

How the ‘Keep Me Safe’ programme empowers young people with learning disabilities.

 ‘I Decide what happens to my body’ is the premise of IPPF’s I Decide campaign which aims to put SRHR at the centre of new development goals.

Not everyone is able to decide what happens to their bodies. One UN study shows that 90 per cent of people with learning disabilities experience some form of sexual abuse during their lifetime.

Here’s how IPPF’s European Network is empowering young people with learning disabilities like Down syndrome or autism to protect themselves against sexual abuse and violence.

“How do I tell my two students, who say they are a couple, that they shouldn’t touch each other inappropriately in class?” This is just one of the challenges faced by a teacher who works with young people with learning disabilities in Cyprus.

Sex is not an easy subject to discuss in Cyprus. When it comes to sex and young people with learning disabilities it becomes even more difficult. That’s why IPPF has been training teachers, psychologists and other education professionals through the Keep me Safe Project.

These professionals know that young people with learning disabilities are just like all other young people – interested in how their bodies work, eager to experience love and curious to learn more about sexuality. But talking about sex, safety and privacy with these youngsters is especially difficult in a country where sex education is almost completely excluded from the school curriculum.

Young people with learning disabilities are rarely considered to have the same desires as their peers. But, if no one talks to them openly about sexuality, boundaries and responsibilities in a positive way, inappropriate sexual behaviour is just one of the dangers. These young people also face a serious risk of violence and abuse. Statistics from a 2006 UN study showed that 90 per cent of people with learning disabilities experience some form of sexual abuse during their lifetime.

Working with – or being the parent of – a young person who has a learning disability is not just about delivering information to someone who experiences difficulties in communication and learning. It's also about facing your own preconceptions. Many parents and educators already feel uncomfortable talking about sex and sexuality to youth.

This is why it’s essential that parents, teachers and social workers acknowledge that these youngsters have the right to enjoy affection and sexuality while learning the skills to stay safe.

One of the trainers, Annelies Kuyper from Rutgers WPF, IPPF’s Dutch member association said: “Just organizing a training session on young people with learning disabilities and sexuality in a country where sex in general is not the easiest topic was an exciting opportunity. Despite the initial challenges, we succeeded in 'going beyond the taboo' and managed to create an open atmosphere for discussion. The needs of young people with learning difficulties cannot be ignored anymore.”

The education professionals are now passing on what they have learnt to others across the country.

The two-year Keep Me Safe initiative, coordinated by IPPF European Network and co-funded by the European Commission, will also be rolled out in Bulgaria, Romania and Spain.