I wanted to specifically address something I’ve noted seems to be a bit of a recurring theme in how newspapers are handling the reporting on child abuse cases involving Deaf boys. I think the best way to illustrate it is just to throw some pull quotes at you:
…their reports fell on the deaf ears of hearing people. 1
Somebody has to tell the First See when it’s blind — and mute — to deaf children in America and Italy. 2
There’s a lot more where that came from, but I don’t think that I need to belabour the point, do I? And I swear I’m not picking on the Times, it was just such an easy shot.
There are a broad assortment of problems with this. The first, of course, is ableist language, something which we talk about a lot here at FWD. That ‘deaf ears’ usage is an extremely common way of saying ‘decided to selectively ignore information.’ So common, in fact, that when I do a search for ‘deaf ears’ on pretty much any newspaper site, I get a whole slew of results.
In this particular case, it’s an ableist language double whammy. ‘Deaf ears’ is offensive and irritating in and of itself, but when it is being used to trivialise reports about sexual abuse of people with disabilities, it honestly has me seeing red. And I don’t mean that in the metaphorical sense, I mean it makes me so angry that I actually see coloured spots at the edge of my vision and I am afraid that I’m going to pop a capillary.
The media apparently thinks that sexual abuse of children with disabilities is something to pun about. Hardy har har, Deaf children were raped! That’s hilarious! And it’s not just the Times that is doing this. Every single report I’ve read has made some variation on the ‘deaf ears’ joke. Often multiple articles published in the same publication on the same day, as though the editors think that the same pathetic joke is just soooo funny that they can go ahead and use it twice, and sometimes it appears twice in the same article. My daddy always taught me that you shouldn’t use the same metaphor twice in 800 words because it makes you look uncreative, is all I’ll say about that.
Which, you know. It shouldn’t surprise me that this is treated as a laughing matter, given that sexual assault of people with disabilities in general is ignored by the general public or treated like something which doesn’t happen. Despite the fact that we are twice as likely to experience sexual assault, that rape is endemic in institutions, that women are sterilised so that they cannot get pregnant, which would reveal the fact that they are being raped, rape of people with disabilities is rarely talked about. When it is, it’s often in joking terms, and people say things like ‘why would anyone rape someone in a wheelchair, they’re gross,’ as though rape is about sex when it is, in fact, about power, the exercise of power, the manipulation of power.
What this kind of language does is reinforce the idea that sexual assault of people with disabilities is a joking matter.
- New York Times: For Years, Deaf Boys Tried to Tell of Priest’s Abuse. ↩
- New York Times: Should There Be an Inquisition for the Pope? ↩