DDNJ Podcast: Crucial Conversations about Sexual Assault and Abuse

By Jenna Olson | March 22, 2022

An interview with Dr. Parthenia Dinora and Molly Dellinger-Wray

Two blond women smiling
Dr. Parthenia Dinora (left) and Molly Dellinger-Wray (right)

Content warning: This post addresses sensitive topics including abuse and sexual assault. Scroll down for resources to prevent abuse and help abuse survivors.

A full transcript of this episode is available in English and Spanish.

Sexual assault and abuse of people with disabilities often goes unreported. People with disabilities are about four times more likely to experience violent victimization than people without disabilities (U.S. Department of Justice, 2021).  To address these pressing issues, Dr. Parthenia Dinora and Molly Dellinger Wray, together with many others, have developed a training program called Leadership for Empowerment and Abuse Prevention (LEAP).

In the most recent episode of the Developmental Disabilities Network Journal's podcast Author Insights, Dr. Dinora and Wray discuss the LEAP training program and issues of sexuality, relationships, and abuse among people with disabilities.  This episode was hosted by the Institute for Disability’s executive director, Matthew Wappett.

LEAP is an incredibly influential training program.  It consists of four 90-minute sessions, led by a person with a disability and a co-trainer.  The first two sessions define friendships and relationships.  The third session explores the difference between unhealthy and healthy behaviors.  The final session teaches about how to get help in unhealthy situations.

The program was created out of a compelling need.  Dr. Dinora said, “The statistics around abuse of adults with intellectual disability are […] sobering and scary.” 

Wray concurred. “We developed this training for a reason, because we know there are very high rates of abuse among people with disabilities.”

The topic of sexual assault and abuse of people with disabilities hits close to home for both Dr. Dinora and Wray.  Dr. Dinora explained, “I am a parent of a child with a disability. So, the issues […] are very near and dear to my heart.”  Wray agreed, “As […] a parent of a child with a disability […], I felt like it was really important that we bring that information directly to the people who needed it.”

People with disabilities are at the core of this program.  Wray explained, “It’s really person centered.”  Dr. Dinora expanded, “We couldn’t have done it without people.  The intervention is about people with disabilities, developed alongside with people with disabilities. […] They are creators of this.”

Accessibility and inclusion have been integral parts of this program.  Wray discussed the importance of an inclusive program, “We really wanted LEAP to include everyone […] It is possible to learn these techniques and these strategies regardless of your disability or your cognitive strengths or weaknesses.” 

Dr. Wappett agreed. “Everyone has a right to safety.”

The results of the program have been impressive.  After the trainings, “people really gained skills in describing why something was healthy or unhealthy. […] If it was an unhealthy relationship, they better knew how to get themselves out of an unhealthy relationship and seek support,” Dr. Dinora shared.

Drs. Dinora, Wray and their team are working to make impactful changes in the world of sexual assault and abuse, especially regarding people with disabilities.  LEAP is changing the lives of participants.  This program has “a serious measurable impact on the lives of at least a few people who are now safer because of it,” Dr. Wappett said. 

Dr. Dinora agrees. “You’re in front of people, you’re measuring if it’s working, and you’re seeing changes in people’s lives.”

You can find more information about LEAP and other resources below.

You can learn more about the journal and its companion podcast on our website. Subscribe to DDNJ Author Insights on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Google Podcasts.


Leadership for Empowerment and Abuse Prevention (LEAP)

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Sexual Assault of People with Disabilities

About the Authors

Dr. Parthenia “Parthy” Dinora is the executive director of Virginia’s University Center for Excellence in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University, which operates 40 projects that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. 

Molly Dellinger-Wray is a project manager at the Partnership for People with Disabilities, a university center for excellence in developmental disabilities. Molly is a special educator and has over 30 years of experience supporting people with disabilities in schools, homes, and communities. 

They co-authored the article, “Testing the Efficacy of Leadership for Empowerment and Abuse Prevention (LEAP), a Healthy Relationship Training Intervention for people with Intellectual Disability” in the latest issue of DDNJ.

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