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Teaching Self-Defense To The Most Vulnerable

impact_student_s.jpg
Students in the Impact-Ability self defense class.
Tina Martin, WGBH News
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180112-tina-me.mp3

Meet Lucas Walker.

“My name is Lucas J. Walker and I have a disability and that’s autism. I like to watch television and play on my phone and work and stuff," he said. 

Walker was not watching television or playing on the phone when he introduced himself. He was in a room with other students like him, ages 18-25. They sat in a row as two instructors sat across from them. Walker told us what he was learning in the class.

“To protect yourself and stand up for yourself," he said.

Walker was learning what to say if someone tries to sexually assault him. He gave us a few examples: “Don’t touch me, leave me alone."

The training program is called Impact-Ability, and it’s part of Impact Boston. Impact Boston is a non-profit that provides abuse prevention and safety programs to several populations, including people with intellectual disabilities. (The various "Impact" programs are part of the larger Triangle, Inc.)

Meg Stone, the program’s director, said the classes started for a specific reason.

“The training classes were started in 2011 in response to a need for abuse and violence prevention," she said. "At the time, the research was clear that people with disabilities are disproportionately facing sexual or other types of abuse.”

An NPR report, drawing on previously unpublished data from the justice department, shows people with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than others.

Those numbers, Stone said, highlight significant vulnerability.

“If you have challenges with mobility, there are still ways that you can find a strong part of your body," she said. "You can use it to protect yourself by striking a vulnerable part of the body of the person who is trying to harm you.”

Mandy Doyle and another instructor taught Lucas Walker’s class.

Doyle said students learn how to strike someone in the eye if they are being assaulted. They are taught to run away and find someone they trust to tell.

“The difference with these classes is that we do them immersed into role plays. We have the students doing as realistic scenarios as possible," she said. "We have an instructor who plays the person who is making someone uncomfortable. Then we can practice the skills in the real situation.”

Stone said classes are offered 65 times a year, which is a huge jump in frequency from when the program first started. A majority of the classes are conducted within Boston Public Schools.

“Currently, our program reaches about 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities per year," said Stone.

Lucas Walker said he felt pretty good as he was leaving the class. He gained confidence and other self-defense skills the Impact-Ability team hopes he never has to use.

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