Tag Archives: abuse

Who Is The Victim Here?

Content warning: This post contains discussions of physical abuse and sexual assault perpetrated by caregivers.

Last week, I read a horrific story in the Los Angeles Times about an employee of a retirement home who was sentenced to life in prison for torturing the residents. The story in the Times describes patients as ‘dementia ridden’ and ‘wheelchair bound,’ dehumanising them for readers and putting the focus squarely on friends and family. It’s not awful that this man kicked patients, punched them in the stomach, body slammed them, sexually assaulted them. It’s awful that he got caught and that their families know. The defense? That the accusations came from employees who ‘committed similar abuse themselves.’

This man was named ’employee of the month.’ A medical examiner described the injuries to the body of one of his victims as like ‘being hit by a train.’

“Society is judged by how we care for people who can’t care for themselves,” Herscovitz said. “What could be worse than to have someone abused and not be able to communicate, to be trapped in their own body… and endure the abuse?” (source)

Again, the focus here is not on what happened to the victims, but what the abuse says about society and the perpetrator and the families of the victims. On the guilt experienced by family members who placed their loved ones in the facility. I see a parallel between the language used in these articles and the rhetoric from animal rights organisations like The Fund For Animals, which ‘speaks for those who can’t.’ It’s a pretty stark example of how people with disabilities are viewed by society.

This is not the only report of a ‘caregiver’ abusing people that has showed up in the news lately. In Santa Barbara, a man who sexually assaulted a disabled woman recently reached a plea bargain. Another graphic rape case from El Monte, California. In Des Moines, a disabled woman was raped by a ‘caregiver’ and her rape resulted in a pregnancy; the case would have gone undiscovered if it were not for that.

There is a consistent theme in the way that stories like this are reported. I wrote recently about how rapes of disabled women are framed as a crime against society, not the victim, and the same holds true for abuse. I get the impression, from the way that these articles are written, that the problem isn’t that human beings were tortured, sexually assaulted, and abused, but that ‘the helpless’ were subjected to cruelty and this reflects poorly on society.

It reflects poorly on society that we consider people with disabilities to be helpless. It reflects poorly on society that these narratives reinforce the idea that people with disabilities are incapable of protecting themselves and cannot report crimes committed against them, because this tells people who commit crimes like this that as long as they don’t get caught, they can act with impunity. The dehumanisation of these victims focuses on how awful it must be for their family members, how terrible it must be for them. Not on how awful it is to be a victim of violence.

Sometimes, I read stories where it seems to be implied that the victim doesn’t really understand, so the real source of heartbreak and tragedy is the knowledge of the family members. Never do these stories mention cases where people are not provided with the tools to communicate what is happening to them. Never do these stories talk about situations when people have reported abuse and have been ignored. Surely both of these things reflect poorly on society, don’t they? Why aren’t we talking about them?

These stories do not explore the structural problems involved. They do not talk, for example, about what it is like to be dependent financially and physically on someone who  is abusive. On what it is like to know that reporting could end in retribution, institutionalisation, or even a return to the abusive caregiver. They don’t talk about the creation of enforced dependence, or why it is so hard to report abuse. Why it is that inmates of institutions can report abuse and nothing happens, but when their family members get involved, sometimes action is taken.

These stories are also presented in a way that suggests these cases are unusual. They are abhorrent, but they are not unusual. I wish that they were unusual, that caregivers who abuse were so extraordinary that such stories were blazoned across the major networks on the evening news. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Indeed, a quick perusal of Google News turned up a stack of cases from the last week documenting abuse perpetrated by caregivers. Some of these cases were so awful that I couldn’t bring myself to link to them, even with a warning.

People wonder why people with disabilities don’t universally trust caregivers, have concerns about institutionalisation, why sites like this one that centre the voices and experiences of people with disabilities exist. It’s because these kinds of cases are far from being uncommon, and because in most places, the myth that facilities that warehouse people with disabilities provide ‘care’ is alive and well.

As long as these stories keep being reported like they are unusual, as long as they keep dehumanising victims, the social attitudes that contribute to the abuse of people with disabilities will continue.

Abuse of Intellectually Disabled Workers at Iowa Meatpacking Plant

Note: There are a number of links to news stories in this post. All of them have problematic language.

A horrifying story out of Iowa has been getting some press attention over the last few days, if you know where to look1. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report detailed the abuse of workers with intellectual disabilities in a meat packing plant and it looks like the labour contractor responsible, Henry’s Turkey Service, is going to be brought up on charges. I can find stories on this dating back to early 2009; the uptick in interest appears to be the result of news that more federal charges are going to be filed.

The labour contractor, based in Texas, provides crews that go all over the country and has done so since the 1970s. This particular group of 21 men was sent to a plant in Iowa, West Liberty Foods. They were kept in a bunkhouse with boarded up windows and space heaters for heat; Iowa gets mighty cold in the winter and space heaters are unlikely to cut it. These men were getting up at three in the morning seven days a week to work in a meatpacking plant, and some of them were ’employed2for decades.

Here’s a description of the conditions:

“The living conditions were worse than squalor,” she said. “There were fire hazards, no heat, their rooms were crawling with cockroaches. It was just filth, a nightmare.” (source)

West Liberty was paying Henry’s Turkey Service around $11,000 United States Dollars a month for the men’s labour, and they were making, literally, pennies on the dollar:

The report found that West Liberty Foods paid Henry’s Turkey Service as much as $11,000 per week for the disabled men’s labor. Henry’s Turkey Service then paid the men a combined total of between $340 and $500 per week, or about 41 cents an hour, The Des Moines Register reported.

Compared to the pay the men would have gotten at minimum wage, the report found that the company underpaid them by more than $1 million during the last three years of the company’s operation. But the underpaid amount could climb because other workers doing the same job earned between $9 and $12 per hour. (source)

How was this justified?

…to justify lower wages the lawyer explained how by using a Department of Labor formula the company then calculated how much to pay based on how many disabled men it takes to equal the amount of work done any one man. His example was three-to-one. (source)

This story is primarily being reported as a case of employment discrimination and much of the litigation surrounds the back wages and pay these men are owed. This is definitely an issue and I’m glad to see it being addressed. But this is also a very clear case of abuse of people with disabilities. And I am deeply disturbed to learn how the EEOC deals with abuse of disabled workers:

Under federal law, once the EEOC determines that the rights of disabled workers have been violated, it must attempt to halt the violations through an informal process of “conference, conciliation and persuasion.” The commission plans to send a proposed conciliation agreement – a settlement of sorts – to Henry’s owners. If the owners reject the proposed settlement and refuse to negotiate, the EEOC has the option of taking the company to court. (source)

Evidently, if you are a disabled worker and you are being abused by an employer, including abuse like being kept in squalid conditions and being taunted and name-called by coworkers, attempts to work the situation out amicably must fail before more aggressive measures can be pursued.

This is a labour rights issue, but it is also an abuse issue. And it illustrates the critical need to get tougher protections in place for workers with disabilities. These conditions should never have happened in the first place and they definitely should not have been allowed to persist for decades. There would be widespread outrage if nondisabled people were involved in the case, but as it is, most of the reporting and attention seems to be happening in Iowa itself. This is being treated as a local news story, instead of what it is, which is a heinous outrage and a grave violation of human rights and all reasonable decency.

And it’s being treated as a one time event, rather than evidence of a systemic problem. Certainly, the news says, this case is awful and it’s good that charges are being filed. But there’s not a lot of exploration into how and why this happened. Some advocates are quoted in the articles, as well as family members, and they are righteously infuriated, but I don’t see any quotes from people with disabilities, including any of the workers involved; once they were removed from the bunkhouse, they were apparently whisked into group homes.

Henry’s Turkey Service is not the only agency that provides contract labour like this. West Liberty is not the only employer which tries to cut costs by using contract labour. This is a structural problem, not a local news issue. Workers with disabilities and workers with nebulous immigration status endure horrific abuses in this country; the situation at West Liberty is repeated over and over again all over the United States because of the attitude that these individuals are a cheap source of disposable labour, to be used up and thrown away.

And the people ‘in charge,’ the people who might be empowered to investigate and take action? Well:

Muscatine County Sheriff David White said recently that he is confident the people who ran Henry’s Turkey Service treated the bunkhouse residents well.

“Our take on it was, you know, that they were doing some pretty good things with these guys,” he said. (source)

The reason no one did anything about the hostile working environment, atrocious living conditions, and economic abuses of these men is that they were regarded as something less than human. And employment law appears to reinforce that idea by suggesting that the first step in abuse cases like this is not filing charges, but ‘conciliation and persuasion.’

  1. Which is to say, ‘if you have the time to search for news stories that are falling through the cracks.’
  2. I use scare quotes here because from what I understand of this case, this was more like servitude than employment.

By 17 May, 2010.    events, work  , ,  

Recommended Reading for Friday, 7 May 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Two people participating in a disability pride event. They are holding up large versions of 'hello, my name is...' stickers like those people wear to events. One's says 'hello my name is: human' and the other's says 'hello my name is: neighbor.'

Photo from the Disability Action Hall’s Eighth ‘Speak Out’ event, held in 2006. By Flickr user Grant Neufeld, Creative Commons License.

Tasha Fierce at Red Vinyl Shoes: My Kind of Crazy

I used to talk about mental health issues a lot back in the day, but haven’t lately because I got tired of feeling like a downer all the damn time. It is really important to bring mental health issues to light because the more we talk about them the less stigmatizing the diagnosis becomes, but constantly being the ambassador from crazyland is tiring mentally. You don’t always have to be the one to suffer fools.

Marianne at The Rotund: Fat and Crazy; Not Entirely Coherent, Awkward Musing On My Fat And My Crazy And How They Party Together

So, for me, one of the very hardest, most awfulest to try to overcome parts of FA was the idea that I had to listen to my body and trust that I was interpreting its messages correctly. For an example: I have a proliferation of allergies, both food and environmental. Before I pursued actual useful medical treatment (as opposed to being told the allergies would go away if I lost weight), I had no goddamn idea if I was having an allergy attack or if I had a cold. In fact, it was so impossible to tell that everything read as allergies.

Richard Bales at Workplace Prof Blog: DOL Releases Online Disability Law Advisor

The interactive, online Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor helps employers determine which federal disability nondiscrimination laws apply to their business or organization and their responsibilities under them.  To do this, it asks users to answer a few relevant questions and then generates a customized list of federal disability nondiscrimination laws that likely apply, along with information about employers’ responsibilities under each of them.

Diana Sweet at The Raw Story: US school for disabled forces students to wear packs that deliver massive electric shocks (warning, graphic descriptions of abuse of people with disabilities) (via Planet of the Blind)

Noting that it believes United States law fails to provide needed protections to children and adults with disabilities, MDRI calls for the immediate end to the use of electric shock and long-term restraints as a form of behavior modification or treatment and  a ban on the infliction of severe pain for so-called therapeutic purposes.

Beck Vass at the New Zealand Herald: ‘Nightmare’ at petrol station for amputee

When double-amputee Brian Portland went to buy petrol at a BP station in South Auckland, he was told he had to pump it himself.

Then, Mr Portland was told he couldn’t use his wheelchair on the forecourt because it breached health and safety regulations.

Wheelchair Dancer: Sins is Hiring

We present multidisciplinary performances (video, poetry, spoken word, music, drama, and dance) by people with disabilities for broad audiences in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere; organize multidisciplinary performance workshops for community members with and without disabilities; and offer political education workshops for community based and educational organizations that share our commitment to social justice principles as a means of integrating analysis and action around disability, race, gender, and sexuality.

An OYD Airline Rant

I won’t apologize for her actions and I’m not sorry for what happened to you. It’s not in our contract to assist passengers with their luggage and we reserve the right to refuse assistance to anyone. If that’s what you need, then perhaps in the future, you should make other travel arrangements.

Well, to say the least, that is not the kind of response I expect to get from a customer service representative; not the Entry Level Line Memorizing Oh Dammit Did You Really Ask For A Supervisor people, and I certainly don’t expect it from a supervisor. Were I to get such a resonse I would certainly suspect that something slightly sinister was going on here at said establishment where I was complaining. After all, if I am speaking to a Customer Service Supervisor, things have reached a fairly epic proportion of shit deep inconvenience, because I pretty much go out of my anxiety issue way to avoid having conversations with people I don’t know in person (let alone on the phone). Because I have to weigh the cost of spoons spent on holding myself together long enough to get out the details of what happened, as I did recently with my complaint to Patient Admin about Nurse Midwife V, versus the benefit of getting shit cleared up so it doesn’t happen again to other people who may follow after me and patronize a company, needing services, like in this case, travel.

But here, this is exactly the case. Here, evilpuppy from Incoherent Ramblings From a Coffee Addict, who, expending great energy, spoons, and emotional well being tried to file a complaint on the completely despicable treatment doled out by the staff at United Airlines, and received this condescending and otherwise completely, well, jack-assed and ignorant response from someone who should have a working knowledge of how an employee on an airplane should treat a person with a disability. Not in an email response or even in a letter form; this response was delivered face to face. All of this after she already went to the trouble of pre-arranging accommodations for a wheelchair and made sure to note with the ticket agents — multiple times — that she would need assistance on the plane.

Just a small dose of what evilpuppy endured:

The wheelchair left me off at the door and after making sure I had all of my belongings, he turned around and left. I boarded the plane and made my way back to my aisle seat where I set down my special seat cushion and lumbar brace before looking around for a flight attendant to help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment. The attendant standing in the front section of economy was a blonde woman probably in her late 40s-50s and I called her over to explain that I needed her assistance because I wasn’t capable of lifting my luggage due to my disability. To my surprise, the attendant rejected my request while excusing it by saying: “If I helped everyone do that all day then MY back would be killing me by the end of the day!” I asked her how I was supposed to get my luggage stowed and her answer was: “You’ll just have to wait for someone from your row to come back here and ask them to give you a hand.” When I asked what would happen if no one would, her response to me was: “Well, normally a passenger is around to overhear something like this and they’ll offer to help with it on their own. You’ll just have to ask someone when they get back here.” Then she turned back around and went up to the front seats where she waited to “assist” other passengers.

I was completely flabbergasted, but with no other option, I sat down to wait and pulled my carry-on suitcase as close as I could to try to get it out of the way of the aisle. As I’m sure you’re aware, however, your aisles are considerably narrow and even my best efforts left half of even my small carry-on suitcase in the aisle. What’s more, rather than help me, most of the passengers simply knocked into my suitcase and shoved past me on the way to their own seats. Every time they hit the suitcase, it in turn hit me and jarred my back more and more with each strike. The plane wasn’t even half boarded and it already felt like the pain medication I’d taken less than a half hour prior to entering the airport had worn off as though I hadn’t taken it at all.

Now, I have endured some pretty meh-hessed treatment at the hands of customer service personnel. I have seen other people treated pretty horribly. I have had my disability status questioned, rejected, laughed off. I have had it compared to the fatigue of being a stay at home mother of two children (I am not downplaying the work of SAHMs, having once been one myself, but these are apples and well NOT APPLES!), and of course DIET AND EXERCISE! but never have I had someone so flatly refuse to acknowledge that 1) their co-worker/staff/employee so royally screwed up and 2) that their co-worker/staff/employee’s royal screw up really fucked my world up and over in a way that might just have rendered my next few days useless, since that might mean that I will then be spending the next two or three or more days in bed or on a couch with my feet up trying to recover from the aforementioned loss of spoons and emotional well being.

To put it concisely: Wow. That is messed up.

Not to mention, I am not sure I have ever patronized any business where it was standard procedure for other paying customers to assist a person in lieu of the paid employees who are standing around. It just seems lately that airlines are giving me more and more reasons to not give them more money than I can afford to basically be treated like crap.

I have never been told that it wasn’t the job of the person whose actual job it was to help me.


Once passengers are onboard the aircraft, our flight attendants can help with stowing and retrieving carry-on items, as well as providing wheelchair assistance to move passengers to and from the aircraft lavatory (although they cannot provide assistance inside the lavatory). Flight attendants may also provide assistance with taking oral medication, identifying food items on meal trays and opening packages.

Is there a single airline that isn’t treating humans like chattel these days? That isn’t outright pissing me off for one reason or another (well, Korean Air hasn’t yet, but I haven’t flown International since the Christmas debacle). I am beginning to think I will need to take a boat to get home the next time. And Space A military flights are a privilege I am willing flex more and more if I have the time and pain medication available. It might be worth it to not be herded on and off a plane like cattle, denied bathroom and water privileges for hours on end (which can be living hell to a PWD).

Oh, and also:

Then the flight is delayed. We sit on the runway for some time, and because of the new federal law requiring that airlines not keep people on the tarmac for more than 3 hours, they let us off for about 5 minutes before insisting we all get back on because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now, or for several more hours. They let us off the plane again. Shortly thereafter, they insist that we all get back on the plane because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now.

At some point after the second or third round of boarding and being told to sit down because we are leaving right now, a man towards the back of the plane stands up to get himself a cup of water. For context, this flight is (or was supposed to be) a 7:40 a.m. flight from Atlanta to New York, landing around 9 a.m. It is full of (mostly white) business people in suits. This man is brown, and appears to be South Asian. A flight attendant at the front of the plane, near where I’m sitting, sees him stand up and panics. She throws open the airplane door and starts yelling at him that he isn’t allowed to stand up, and that he needs to exit the plane immediately. The man is confused, and says, “What? I was only standing up to get a cup of water.” She yells out, “I don’t care, you’re off the flight! Get your things, you’re off the flight!” Water Man starts arguing with her about how he just wanted a glass of water, and he is happy to sit down now, but he’s not getting off the flight. The flight attendant says that she feels threatened and gets a supervisor, who in turn gets airport security, who in turn tell the man that he is going to be arrested and charged with a felony if he does not exit the aircraft. The man, probably smartly, exits the aircraft.

Like Jill passes over in her rant here, with all the hype of racial profiling being trendy, if you assert your right to a simple thing like a drink of fucking water while daring to be brown you can be thrown off of a flight.

Thankfully The Consumerist has picked up on this (although “who says she’s disabled”? Could we pour more salt on this?). I am not entirely sure how much good this does things like this, except that I give them all kinds of link love on Facebook when I find something relevant, so maybe this went viral? I would however, like to point out that the comments at The Consumerist are some of the worst disability blaming shite I have seen in a while (and it shows how safe my social justice bubble is). It seems that we, the PWDs, should not dare to carry on a bag if we a) need a wheelchair to get on a plane b) can’t lift it ourselves and c) have the audacity to want to be treated JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE ON A PLANE. Also, don’t forget, if you take pain medication, and/or dare to have a drink on the plane to settle your anxiety you are not to be believed when you make claims as to the crappy ass treatment you received. Nope.

Because there is no way in the entirety of the multiverse that you would ever remember something as abusive or as hurtful or as downright dehumanizing as what Dina the Customer Service Supervisor at SFO said to you, for the rest of your life, or how it made you feel at that moment in dog damned time. Evah.

PWDs are not human. We are not people who should be existing in the same world with those good, hard working, abled-bodied people who can do everything themselves. To hell with us, for not being able to lift our bags! Forget that we just maybe had to scrape together all the money we had to afford the damned flight in the first place so that extra twenty five dollars is NO BIG DEAL JUST CHECK YOUR DAMNED BAG YOU LAZY STONED JERKS!

Silly me for expecting human treatment for all humans.

Via commenter Livre at The Consumerist, United is apparently attempting to contact (or has, I am looking into it) in true “Oh Snap Kevin Smith Has One Million Twitter Followers DOOOOOO SOOOOOMETHING” fashion to try and do damage control sort this out.

Sort this out? That would be something, now, wouldn’t it?

h/t to my friend Kate on Facebook

Criticism and the Vatican, Part Two: Adventures in Bad Reporting

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.

It’s not.

Criticism and the Vatican, Part One: You Really Want To Go There?

As I suspect many of our readers are well aware, there’s an ongoing abuse scandal in the Catholic Church which really exploded when news broke that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) could have intervened in some cases of abuse and didn’t. I’ve been following the ongoing issues with the Church and child abuse for years, and the situation became especially disability-relevant when it was revealed that a priest at a school for the Deaf engaged in systemic abuse which went ignored by the Church despite numerous attempts on the part of students to report it.

Curiously, the Church chose Holy Week, which is I understand an especially sacred time for Catholics, go to on the defensive about this. It looked pretty bad, especially when Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa preached:

Holy Father, on your side are the people of God, who do not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes strike at the community of believers. (emphasis mine) 1

And added:

The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.2

Yes, that’s right. Criticism=Antisemitism. Let’s reduce reports of abuse to ‘petty gossip.’ That’s fantastic. Sure, Rev. Cantalamessa apologised after the fact, but he certainly thought those particular lines were a good idea when he got up to preach, and I suspect that a part of him still believes it. Still believes that it is entirely appropriate to compare criticisms about institutions which tolerate child rape to the persecution of the Jewish people.

April happens to be Sexual Assault Awareness month, and the Vatican’s defensive and determined reactions to the discussions of sexual assault perpetrated by Catholic priests highlight some especially relevant issues, like the fact that people reported abuse in pretty much every way they could think of, expecting the adults around them to do something, and nothing happened, a common problem for victims of sexual assault which manifests even more in the case of people with disabilities who are sexually assaulted. The Church pretty clearly suppressed reports of abuse and attempts at investigation, as though ignoring them would make the problem go away, and even left priests known to be molesters in charge of young children. And now, the Church wants to pretend that it wasn’t complicit in abuse, just like other institutions which tolerate or even promote abuse attempt to sidestep responsibility.

Which is just not ok on so many levels. And the form the denial is taking is so very horrific and awful. The Church wants to evade criticism by likening it to Antisemitism? Especially when Pope Benedict was a member of the Hitler Youth and certainly has a murky past in regards to the Nazis?

This is a classic tactic which is also taken in response to criticisms in general which involve social justice issues; it seems like Godwin’s Law comes up in pretty much any discussion in which pop culture is criticised, in which language use is challenged, in which any group of people is trying to address and break down a systemic problem like abuse, violence, or discrimination. I don’t quite understand why it is that people think that arguments can be dismissed by comparing them to something utterly horrific, but it’s extraordinarily common and it never ceases to disgust me.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the Church is doing the same.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 9 April: Special FWD Contributors Elsewhere Edition!

It’s been a while since we had a round of ‘FWD Contributors writing elsewhere,’ so, without further ado…

abby jean writing at Feministe: Fighting Ableism Fights Sexual Assault (Content warning: Discussions of sexual assault, depression.)

Fighting against ableist language or ableist tropes in pop culture helps undermine the messages that could convince a woman with a disability that she doesn’t deserve more than sexual assault. Fighting ableism is fighting sexual assault. And, to extend that, fighting racism and classism and homophobia and trans oppression also fights sexual assault, by fighting the interlocking and intersecting forces that make women more and more vulnerable to rape and sexual assault.

Anna already mentioned this post in an earlier edition of Recommended Reading, but it’s worth highlighting again!

Brandann Hill-Mann (aka Ouyang Dan) writing at Racialicious: Wopajo

But it sums up my life perfectly: Too white to be Native and too Native to be white. And that is only the surface of my racial conundrum. Always on the edge of two identities and never quite belonging to either. I don’t look like anyone else in my family; I am lighter and my hair brown, not the silky black that you see in some popular movies, and is sometimes a little curly, and my eyes are partially green. I don’t look like my own family, and when I tell someone that I am in fact not White, I get the sympathetic “oh, yes, I see it now, you do have remarkably high cheek bones!” stamp of approval.

s.e. smith writing at Global Comment: Child abuse & vengeance in picturesque Fort Bragg, CA (Content warning: Discussions of molestation, rape, murder.)

There are laws in place to protect people like Aaron Vargas and the thousands of people abused by Catholic priests. Mandated reporting laws, for example, oblige people in positions of authority to report suspected abuse. Likewise, law enforcement are expected to follow up on abuse reports.

Chally at Feministe: It’s About Control

Because there are people out there who think the idea of controlling their partner, controlling women, is a source of amusement. That getting those nasty bitches to pipe down is a dream. But more than that, worse than that, is that this remote is a reminder that there are men out there who desire to control “their” women’s every action and being like this. That is abuse. It is not a source of humour, and I don’t know what kind of disconnect or contempt or hatred it takes to make anyone think it could possibly be something to laugh about.

Hannah Freeman (interviewing Anna) at the McGill Daily: Hey, feminist movement!

‘It would thrill me if all feminist writers everywhere would assume that “women” includes “women with disabilities”, and stop acting like they’re doing us a favour by letting us talk about our “pet issues”. Disability crosses race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political view, etc.’

For Cereal, Stars and Stripes? Mocking “Paranoia” is Headline-Worthy?

OK, so I saw this one in my paper edition because I get it the night before (and technically a day late, since I am in the future!), but you can find it online too.

In the 16 March edition of Stars and Stripes writer Jeff Schogol wrote an article containing letters from people who sent letters to the Defense Department website. He calls the letters he said the DoD provided to him “the more bizarre feedback it gets” and notes that “[t]he authors’ names were withheld, but all spelling, grammar and paranoia are authentic“. (emphasis mine)

The article, titled “Airborne bears to catch bin Laden and other letters to the Pentagon” seems little more than a great way to laugh at people for myriad reasons. Let’s poke fun at their lack of intelligence! See how they can’t construct proper sentences? Those silly people without proper educations and who aren’t newspaper columnists or Pentagon officials! Ha ha! That’s so funny!

There were several letters published by Jeff Schogol in his article that I don’t feel comfortable publishing here, because I don’t feel that it is proper to display these letters that were meant to be private correspondence and won’t further his ableism. I don’t want to further hurt a person who might already be pained by finding hir something they never meant to have public spattered all over the internet and a military wide newspaper. They were not meant for this type of dissemination, and I think it was vile of whichever Pentagon employee thought it was appropriate to release them to a newspaper. I also don’t feel that it is in good taste to print a letter in a newspaper with the intention of laughing at the “crazy” person, as it is clear here that is what is meant. We are supposed to have a good chuckle at the supposed ludicrous ideas that are put forth by the letter writers. Schogol obviously feels that it is OK to call people paranoid and make light of mental illness and disability. Har har.

I am going to invite you to write to Jeff Schogol at Stars and Stripes and let him know that you don’t think it was a great idea to run this article, or that it was in good taste to reprint these letters. Or if you feel inspired, maybe you would like to use the same venue as the original letter writers who thought that they were writing private correspondence to the DoD, and let them know just how unprofessional it was to release those emails to a newspaper for a chuckle.

We Need to Consider More than Universities

There’s a lot of really good stuff out in the blogoamorphia1 about sexual assault on uni campuses. The focus is specifically on USian colleges and universities though Rape Culture exists pretty much everywhere with only slight variation. It’s worth reading, if you’re up to reading about sexual assault at all. (I’m not always.)

Predators are good at target selection. All of them. We see this in the uni rapists who repeatedly assault vulnerable young people. And the analysis of these assaults and assailants is valuable. I hope the attention being focused on this issue leads to real change in how sexual assault is treated by colleges and universities because the status quo is disgusting. Victims are made to undergo ‘mediation’ with their assailants in the name of ‘fairness;’ people known to administrations to be serial rapists face only the most cursory of punishments while their victims often leave, faced with an environment that could hardly be more obviously hostile; the government agencies tasked with reducing rape on uni campuses in the US have hardly bothered to appear to do anything at all.

But I’m a little uncomfortable that the focus is on the most privileged, most visible, most likely to be photogenic segment of sexual assault victims. Not that these people don’t need or deserve attention–they do. (And really I’d like there to be much more awareness that the things cis men do to each other are not HILARIOUS PRANKS but are sexual assault and should be treated as such. Cis men, you have a task: Even if you can’t be arsed to end sexual assault of other folk by cis men, you may wish to end assaults on yourselves by cis men. Hop to it.) I just worry that the pattern we see so often where the most privileged people are centered and marginalized people are pushed to the edges will repeat itself. That sexual assault victims whose circumstances differ will have a more difficult time being heard. That there will be a sense of “Well fuck we already had to care about these college [het cis probably currently non-disabled largely white largely middle-to-upper-class] girls getting raped and now you want us to care about you? Sorry, we’re all out of giving a shit.”

Because predators aren’t just at universities and colleges. All those uni students will leave school eventually. Not all predators even go to uni. They will all be looking for targets. Not only will they choose targets that are vulnerable and have a low risk of incurring negative consequences, they will seek out environments where there are large concentrations of their preferred targets. They will search for jobs where they will be in positions of authority over those targets. Predators that prefer children try to get jobs in schools or in religious settings. Predators that prefer disabled people, mentally ill people, or elderly people look for work in hospitals and supportive care facilities. Predators that prefer sex workers become pimps or police.

Part of the problem is going to be that people will be able to relate to the uni predators better. University-age women are often attractive people by accepted standards of beauty. Raping a pretty young cis woman is understandable–the rapist was attracted to her and wanted to fuck her and wanted to cut through all the preliminary bullshit and get right to the fucking. It’s harder for people to imagine wanting to fuck children or older people or disabled people or crazy people or fat people. Who’d find that attractive? (Who would rape you?)

It isn’t about sexual attraction. A predator’s preferred type of victim may not have anything to do with the sort of people xe finds attractive in non-predatory relationships (assuming xe has any) and may be of a different gender from xer orientation. Cis men who identify as straight and prey on children who read as male by ciscentric standards aren’t necessarily lying about their orientation, even to themselves. Predation isn’t about sex despite there being sexual gratification involved. (Though the predator xerself likely doesn’t understand this.) It’s about the predator making xerself feel powerful by stripping xer victims of power. It’s about the predator boosting xer self-confidence by humiliating xer victims. It’s about the predator feeling safer by making someone else afraid. It’s about hate. It’s about entitlement. It’s about controlling the behavior of others. And like all kinds of abuse, it’s about making the victims responsible for the emotions and actions of the predator.

Sex is just the mode of abuse. The choice of victim is about getting away with it.

So how do we not lose track of this? How can we address the issue of rape on university campuses without centering that experience of rape and marginalizing others? How can mainstream anti-rape activists not treat our experiences of rape as Other, as exotic, as something incomprehensible? Because that path leads to paternalism and patronization. It’s not good for us no matter how well-intentioned. It’s the sort of thing that leads to disabled people with ovaries being sterilized without their consent or knowledge at the behest of guardians who simply assume, with ample justification, that they will be raped in institutional care facilities. Since there’s nothing they can do about that (as we all know rape is a force of nature and not an act performed by humans capable of changing their behavior2) they can at least protect those people with ovaries from some of the potential things that could result from said rape. That one of the things they are protecting people with ovaries from is the possibility of bearing a child and being a good and loving parent–which happens even when a child is conceived by an act of rape–doesn’t occur to them. They know best, and they can’t imagine this person they’re placing in an institutional care facility being a good parent.

Cross-posted from my tumblr blog, Rabbit Lord of the Undead.

  1. Sphere, pshyeah.

This is Why We’re Always on about Language

I’m not linking to the original source because the specifics don’t matter. This isn’t about the individual people or the individual documents involved. This is just an example of how the use of ableist language harms disabled people. Sometimes our posts on ableist language are on the abstract side, so here’s something real concrete. The ableist language is “insane” used to mean “this is bad.” The disabled people are me and everyone else who has been abused and has mental illness.

Some context is necessary, though. The first quote is from the comments thread of a post on intimate partner abuse. More specifically it’s about the way people outside the abusive relationship contribute to the abuse. Even staying “neutral” or “not getting involved” contributes to the abuse: when power is unequally shared among people in a relationship, staying neutral is siding with the person with the most power. But much of the time people don’t stop with that much. They actively side with the abuser. (The reasons for this is a subject for another post. Graduate degree dissertations. Books. I’m headed in a different direction right now.)

One of the commenters expressed disgust with the people who’d taken the side of the abuser and ended the comment with:

How insane is that?

Here’s my reply.

It is appalling, frustrating, disappointing. It makes me want to cry every goddamn time I see it because I know my abusers are fine upstanding successful people and I’m fucked up and broken and poor.

It is not insane.

I am insane. I have had delusions and paranoia and hallucinations. There are parts of me I do not talk about ever because I am deeply ashamed of them: what’s wrong with me that this is in me? How can I be this fucked up? I spend every day working on not killing myself because the parts of me that hate me and want me dead never shut up.1

I would like, please, to not have to be the metaphor for abusers and their abettors as well as their victim. I carry enough shame already.

This is why we talk about ableist language. It’s not because we hate fun. It’s not because we have no sense of humor. It’s not because we want to take people’s words away.

It’s because we shouldn’t have to be the metaphors for our own oppressions.

  1. Unfortunately, none of this is even exaggerated.
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