30 October 2014

Sexual exploitation is a topic that makes for pretty grim reading right now. It might, therefore, seem a little odd to be talking about the very positive experiences that have emerged from ARC’s ‘Helping Each Other’ project.

For those of you not up to speed, we are just over half way through this Comic Relief funded, peer education project concerned with the sexual exploitation (SE) of young people with learning disabilities. I’ve been working with teams of people with learning disabilities, at risk from SE, in our pilot sites of Plymouth and North Devon, preparing teaching plans and resources, which they will roll out in a series of workshops throughout the whole of next year.

Some of the positivity comes from the fact that we are doing the work at all. Having, many years ago, worked in the field of sexual health and learning disability, I see a similar pattern of denial of this as an issue, non-existent research and political support, and a resulting paucity of resources. When we started the project in 2012 it was suggested that 16,500 young people in England were at high risk of sexual exploitation. Given the latest reports emerging out of Greater Manchester and the findings that 1,400 children in Rotherham alone were found to have been exploited that now seems a gross underestimate.

It has long been thought that people with learning disabilities experience sexual abuse at roughly double the rate of the general population, and there is no reason to suspect it would be any lower for sexual exploitation. That equates to an awful lot of young people.

Sorry. I was trying to stay positive… So the good news is that we are doing the work. We are receiving fantastic support from our funders at Comic Relief, who have really understood the trials and tribulations involved in such a cutting edge project, and have offered nothing but encouragement. Many local SE projects have also been delighted to learn of our existence.

The second slab of positivity emerges from the nature of the project. I am not aware of any ARC project to date that has been peer-led, peer-developed and peer-delivered. And I’ve been with ARC for a very long time! This has been a profound learning experience for us as an organisation and (I think) most profound for me as an individual. I have worked in learning disability services since I left school and joined the NAS in Gravesend in 1980. All I can say is that we’ve come quite a long way from the patriarchal, though well-intentioned and (for the time) progressive, institutions of 30 years ago. Progress seems, and is, often painfully slow, but we are getting there. I don’t want to come over all X Factor, but it’s been an amazing journey, and the experience of being put firmly in my place by the real experts has been life-changing.

Read my next project blog to find out how the positivity within the teams has led them to create some great resources that will be rolled out in Devon next year, and available to all via our website towards the end of the project.

Rod Landman
Helping Each Other Project Officer
Tel: 07748 560262

Further information:

Visit the Helping Each Other Project website