There has been relatively little written about what the expected or ‘normal’ range of adolescent sexual activity might entail.
However, in very broad terms, it is probably safe to say that, as a result of the hormonal and physiological changes which accompany the onset of puberty, adolescence is a time when most young people will begin to experiment with some form of sexual activity.
Exactly what acts this may entail – kissing; ‘heavy petting’; full sexual intercourse – will vary according not only to factors personal to each individual, but also in response to the prevailing social and cultural climate which the young person inhabits.
It is now widely acknowledged by researchers (for example Kelly, 1992), Government (DoH et al, 1999) and campaigners (NSPCC, 2003) that disabled children are more likely than their non-disabled peers to be abused. This is true for all types of abuse, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
Previous Ann Craft Trust research on disabled children and abuse (Cooke, 2000; Cooke & Standen, 2001) took our understanding of this phenomenon a stage further by demonstrating differences in the interventions made by statutory social services in response to the abuse of children with disabilities. In comparison to non-disabled children, those with disabilities were not only more likely to be abused, but were also less likely to be put on the child protection register and less likely to receive therapeutic interventions.
An additional, and unexpected, finding of Cooke’s study was the fact that – in a significant minority of cases – adolescents with learning disabilities who had themselves been abused were going on to sexually abuse other children.
Whilst legal action was pending against some of these adolescents, in particular those who had offended against non-disabled children, it appeared that no action had been taken against their abusers. Moreover, it was not apparent that these young people were being offered any therapeutic input in order to either help them come to terms with the abuse which they had suffered or to reduce the likelihood of their continuing to perpetrate further acts of abuse.
It was this unexpected research finding which first led the Ann Craft Trust to develop this study, since it suggested that learning disabled adolescents were being identified – and even prosecuted – as perpetrators of sexual abuse when their plight as victims of abuse had gone unnoticed.
This action research project was carried out by Professor Rachel Fyson in 2001-2004. It was funded by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.