Paper chain of women holding handsWomen with intellectual disabilities are twice as likely to be sexually or physically abused, but most violence prevention programs don’t meet their special needs.

Thanks to a grant from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a program called Safety Includes Me has been launched by Community Living Toronto. The program is designed for women with intellectual disabilities who live on their own without family or other social supports.

During the six-week program, the women learn how to identify healthy relationships, refuse unwanted attention, and practice safe sex. They also learn basic self-defence, plus tips for staying safe at home, on the street, on public transit, and online.

Marlene, a participant in the program, says she learned valuable tips during the sessions. She says the women received advice on things like how best to carry a purse to prevent someone from stealing it, and techniques for defending themselves if attacked. “I also learned how to be in control in relationships, and not let someone else control me.”

Although the program is all about safety and violence prevention, Marlene says it was a fun and social experience. “It helped me make new friends and the workers were always nice.” She says Safety Includes Me offers a learning opportunity for people with disabilities who might not otherwise be able to afford a program fee.

According to the Safety Includes Me Program report, many of the participants had never been in a workshop with women like themselves before: “Friendships blossomed. During meals, they shared stories and gave each other advice and encouragement. After a few weeks, some felt safe enough to disclose current or past abuse and ask for help. When the program ended, they felt far more confident about their overall safety.” 

For more information about the Safety Includes Me program, please contact Sue Hutton at or 416-963-8656.

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