[Tall-Corn] FW: February Article
Scott Van Gorp
svangorp at nfbi.org
Tue Feb 9 22:38:46 UTC 2021
Good Afternoon Federation Family:
This was forwarded to me, but I wanted everyone to see it. Hopefully this helps answer any questions that may still be out there. Thanks!
National, Iowa organizations for the blind issue apologies, launch preventive training after allegations of sexual assault, misconduct
<https://www.desmoinesregister.com/staff/2647057001/lee-rood/> Lee Rood
Des Moines Register
<https://cm.desmoinesregister.com/comment/?storyUrl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.desmoinesregister.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2F2021%2F02%2F08%2Fiowa-u-s-groups-blind-address-sexual-assault-allegations-training%2F4411123001%2F&marketName=desmoinesregister&commentsopen=false> View Comments
A national organization accused of covering up widespread abuse of the members it was established to help plans to begin first steps toward healing next month with a series of trainings aimed at rooting out sexual misconduct and violence.
After receiving complaints from Iowa and across the country of poorly handled sexual abuse and misconduct within its ranks, the National Federation of the Blind has engaged RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization, to educate leaders, board members, training center employees and others beginning March 23.
“We are committed to protecting victims and survivors while learning how to heal from past trauma,” Iowa affiliate President Scott Van Gorp said in a statement. “These trainings are designed to equip our teams with the necessary skills to ensure a safe and healthy environment.”
The announcement comes after <https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2021/01/15/iowa-women-claim-men-national-federation-blind-committed-sexual-misconduct-ousted/6646953002/> a Watchdog report in January profiled Iowa women who had reported abuse and harassment to state and national federation leaders but said federation leaders did not do enough to address it.
The report highlighted how blind women across the country, who have relied on the federation’s advocacy, funding, programming and services, took to social media to recount incidents of rape, groping and harassment at federation-backed conferences, training centers and other programs.
Using the social media hashtag #MarchingTogether, several of the women said abusive members or employees were allowed to keep their positions, or even promoted in the federation’s leadership, after formal complaints were made.
Beginning March 24, 10 anti-sexual violence trainings will be mandatory for all NFB employees, contractors, directors, staff, students, training centers and state affiliate leaders, Van Gorp said.
A Survivor Task Force also has scheduled a series of meetings to focus on the powerful nonprofit’s culture, communications, training practices, procedures and oversight.
Van Gorp said that in addition, the federation has asked members to report past incidents, regardless of when they happened, via its Code of Conduct grievance procedure by Aug. 1, 2021, so they can be reviewed. More information has been made available at <https://nfb.org/survivors> nfb.org/survivors.
The Watchdog report also detailed sexual misconduct allegations at Iowa’s Department of the Blind, which offers its own training and sometimes collaborate with the Iowa federation affiliate. Since August 2019, two department employees who have been accused of sexual misconduct have been fired, records obtained by Watchdog showed.
Emily Wharton, director of the Iowa Department of the Blind, said she could not speak publicly about the specific cases of sexual assault and misconduct Watchdog raised. But she said she formed a working group to help deal with some of the reports coming out of Iowa and other states.
Wharton said she believes sexual assault and harassment are widespread problems, whether one has sight or not. But she said employees know they need to ask permission to touch someone they are training or teaching, she said. They also understand blind and low-vision clients represent a cross-section of experiences.
“We want to work with people… to be in the world as if blindness was not a factor. But whatever they are missing, that’s what we work on,” she said.
One of the challenges clients face when they have multiple disabilities, she said, is that teachers may have lower expectations or may not take the time to teach them all the skills they need to be independent.
“We recognize that other disabilities may change how learning blindness skills happens or how long it takes, but everyone deserves a chance to learn,” she said.
She said that’s why the department has started a young adult transition program for clients, something Gov. Kim Reynolds has supported in her budget.
“We work hard to make our summer program inclusive for all and find ways to make center training work for everyone,” she said.
People with disabilities more likely to be victims
Danielle Montour, a former federation intern who worked last summer at the Iowa Department for the Blind, said she told federation leaders about two different assaults at past federation-sponsored events, but was largely ignored until this year.
Now a part of a national group called The Blind Survivors Support Collective, Montour has been working to help those coming forward nationally who say they have been abused or harassed at federation-affiliated programs, conventions and training.
Now an assistive technology trainer in Lubbock, Texas, Montour said the kinds of discussions and training happening at the federation need to be held across all organizations serving people with disabilities “because the more disabled you are, the more likely you are to be targeted."
There’s a misperception, she said, among some that people with disabilities are no different than others when it comes to sexual assault. But a mix of research suggests people with disabilities are far more likely to be sexually assaulted or become victims of violent crimes than others, she said.
Long-term data from the National Crime Victimization Survey suggests people with visual impairments, primarily women, are about three times as likely to suffer sexual assault than those with sight.
People with disabilities also are far less likely than people without disabilities to report to police when they have been a victim, 2005-2011 data from the same survey shows.
In Norway, a 2018 study of members of the Norwegian Association of the Blind found the risk of experiencing sexual assault is higher among people with visual impairment than in the general population — and higher still for those with additional impairments.
Montour said she thinks part of the sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct is commonplace in programs for the blind and those with low vision is because of the way disabled people are seen by society.
Though blind and low-vision people are handled physically all the time by their teachers, family and others, they often aren’t taught about age-appropriate contact or body autonomy or speaking out about touching that makes them uncomfortable, she said.
Sex education, consent, ways to deal with unwanted advances are not always taught young people with disabilities in general, she said.
“I didn’t get the memo that when I said 'no' at 15, it wouldn’t be accepted,” she said.
Last month, Montour said, she was able to have a confidential conversation with leaders at the federation, including President Mark Riccobono, who has issued a public apology to all federation members.
She said she’s not sure what will come of the efforts the federation is making now to deal with sexual misconduct, but she is hopeful.
“I have been listened to and my words have been acted upon more than they ever have,” she said.
Lee Rood's Reader's Watchdog column helps Iowans get answers and accountability from public officials, the justice system, businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at <mailto:lrood at registermedia.com> lrood at registermedia.com, at 515-284-8549, on Twitter at <https://twitter.com/leerood> @leerood or on Facebook at <https://facebook.com/readerswatchdog> Facebook.com/readerswatchdog.
Scott Van Gorp, President
National Federation of the Blind of Iowa
<mailto:svangorp at nfbi.org> Email
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The National Federation of the Blind of Iowa is a community of members and friends who believe in the hopes and dreams of the nation’s blind. Every day we work together to help blind people live the lives they want.
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