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A broad social network - the key to safety and vitality

Mallory and Kate are skip-bo pros. They are both fiercely competitive and their games can get a little rowdy. It’s their favourite thing to do together. They met a few years ago when Mallory came to Kate’s office to do a presentation about the R-word. After spending the day together looking for people to join the People First board, a friendship was born.

Humans are hardwired for connection - we all crave being seen and appreciated for who we are, and spending time with others that make us feel good. This kind of friendship wasn’t always possible for Mallory. Her parents have worked hard to make sure she has a thriving social life and it’s paying off. “As soon as we had processed the fact that our newborn girl had a disability, we knew our goal was to get her out of the house by the time she was 18”, says Lynn Pigage, Mallory’s mom.” People get so shocked when I say that, but what I mean is that we wanted to do everything possible to set her up for living independently so she could have her own life and thrive in case anything ever happened to us.”

It was a long journey, but one of the biggest things Lynn focused on was ensuring that Mallory built a social circle. “All the research said the best way to keep your kid safe is to make sure that everyone knows them,” she says. High school was tough - building friendships with kids that did not have disabilities was always a struggle. Friends would come and go. But that didn’t stop the family. One of my biggest lessons,” says Lynn, “ was to shift my expectations of what a healthy social life has to look like. Mallory may not have a gaggle of girlfriends that have sleepovers and braid hair, but she has a thriving social life - she is a fixture in this community.” When individuals experience isolation and loneliness the chance of depression, anxiety, and early death rise. When people struggle with depression and low-self esteem, when they don’t have a sense of pride in who they are, they are much more likely to experience victimization or abuse.

We know that over 50% of folks with intellectual disabilities experience these things. Family members, caregivers and service providers know these statistics, but we often get stuck on what to do.

Sexuality and healthy relationship education programs are proven risk prevention tools. When we give people the skills and tools they need to know and love themselves, build friendships, maintain a social circle and assert themselves in the world - we give them the skills to thrive. Sexuality is about much much more than just sex. It’s about knowing who you are, and how to relate well to others in the world. Sexuality is about social skills. Every person has a fundamental need for human connection - are the people that you care for in your life getting enough? How can you support them to connect with others and have their relationship needs met?

Watch our online workshops for more resources on the role sexuality education plays in abuse prevention.

Check out our full library of online workshops.

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