Tag Archives: caregiver abuse

Recommended Reading for 28 October 2010

Readers beware! Not every link is a guaranteed trip to a safe space, and the commentary is not necessarily the opinions of myself or others here at FWD/Forward, but have been included to provide you with a variety of reading that is possibly relevant to your interests (or perhaps to mine). The comments in the blog posts or mainstream news articles you will find below may or may not be triggering to various -isms, and so I would caution you, gentle readers, to proceed with the greatest of caution as you click through away from this page.

Yahoo! News: Nurse error left man brain-damaged

Mr Merrett was aware of the mistake that had been made before he lost consciousness, unable to speak. He can be heard on the film urgently clicking his tongue as a warning.

Ms Aylward tried to resuscitate him but it took 21 minutes for the machine to be restarted by paramedics, leaving Mr Merrett with serious brain damage. He had been nursed at home since 2002 after a road accident left him paralysed from the neck down.

In a strange land (sent in by reader Deborah Russell): The slow reveal

That’s one of the things I like about this book. It doesn’t try to pretend that illness is easy, that everyone can just take the pills and be happy. Kate de Goldi’s characters cope, but there are costs for each of them too. Above all, there are costs for Francie. She has found a way of living, a way of managing, a way of being… content, even if not happy per se. But there are costs. Fancie is no super-crip. She’s just an ordinary woman, who copes as best she can with the way her life has turned out.

The Living Artist (sent in by Heather Freeman): Withdrawal

I see my doctor once a month for a new prescription, because she won’t give me one with refills. (To be honest, I’m unclear if this is her policy, the hospital’s policy, or state law. My impression is that it’s the hospital.)

Last month the one person in her office who knows how to work the computer was out, so I had to have my husband call in to make my next appointment. By the time he got through to the office (which is incrediblyhard to reach by phone) their next available appointment was 6 weeks after the last one. He pointed out that I would run out of my medication before then, and they said they’d see what they could do. Of course we then heard nothing.

Feminists with FSD (sent in by reader Astrid): In defense of “Dysfunction”

Since I have FSD, I have vested interest in learning more about it – what it is, what treatments are or aren’t available, how it impacts individuals’ lives (if at all,) etc. It’s not just reading though – I’ve talked to and received feedback from women who themselves have FSD in one or more forms. I’m especially interested in how FSD is perceived and what people say about it! It’s meta, and its fascinating. So what are people saying about it? When I read about FSD, I notice a few familiar themes pop up repeatedly…

HealthCanal.com: Controversial Law Improves Care for Serious Mental Illness

Currently 45 states have involuntary outpatient commitment laws, but only a handful are designed with prevention in mind. Kendra’s Law is intended to identify and address at-risk behavior that may trigger the need for hospitalization.

Amid criticism that the law may violate patient rights by mandating treatment, the New York State Office of Mental Health commissioned an independent evaluation of the implementation and effectiveness of the program.

Gentle Readers! Always feel free to send your links for a Recommended Reading to recreading [at] disabledfeminists [dot] com. Be sure to include how you would like to be credited for your great find, and a link to any website you want affiliated with yourself.

Betty Anne Gagnon and Murder Most Foul

Content note: This post includes discussions of the murder and abuse of people with disabilities.

Betty Anne Gagnon was 48 years old when she was found curled up in the front seat of a pickup truck in the parking lot of a petrol station near Edmonton, Canada, in November 2009. Her face was heavily bruised and her body bore clear evidence of abuse.

She was dead. The coroner determined that blunt force trauma to the head was the likely cause of death. That was, in the literal sense, the cause of death, but what actually caused her death was ableism.

Betty had developmental disabilities. For 14 years, she lived independently with a caregiver in Calgary, but later moved in with her sister and brother-in-law. During the almost five year time period before her death, she was confined in a cage made of chicken wire, and forced to sleep in a tent smeared with her own feces. Or locked in a dog run in the yard. Or in a decommissioned school bus. Her ‘caregivers’ openly admitted this at the inquest into her death, where they described leaving her in the unheated bus with no toilet facilities, and they talked about the events in the hours before she was left to die in a parking lot, about how she was cold and struggled to breathe. Oh, but they called emergency services for help after they dumped her.

They are being charged with manslaughter, ‘unlawful’ confinement, and assault. I understand how the law works, and how the statutes are organised, and I understand why they cannot be charged with murder, but this was murder. It was murder after years of dehumanisation and abuse. It was murder. It was the complete and utter, total devaluation of human life.

Last week, a vigil was held to honour her, and to draw attention to the abuse of people with disabilities. As attendees at the vigil pointed out, caregiver abuse is common, it’s not commonly addressed, and sometimes it ends in cases like this.

The thing about cases like this is that they are endless. Every week, it seems, I am reading about another person with disabilities being murdered by ‘caregivers,’ and these cases drop off the radar very quickly, but I remember them. We remember them. We also remember the narrative that surrounds most of these cases, where we are reminded that caring for people with disabilities is such a burden and there must have been circumstances involved that we don’t know about, because how could we, it’s so hard to be a caregiver.

Of course, none of us are caregivers. It’s either/or, right? You are either a person with disabilities, or you are a caregiver.

I always thought, personally, that it’s pretty hard to dehumanise people, but apparently the media has no problem doing that. Very rarely do cases like this stress that there was a person involved, a human being, who is now dead. Dead because of social attitudes about the value of disabled lives, dead because of narratives reinforcing latitude in circumstances, dead because no one reported the abuse or because if someone did, the report wasn’t taken seriously. Dead because, sometimes, the media treats murderous ‘caregivers’ like misunderstood heroes.

It is sickening, and I mean that in a physical sense, to read article after article about people killing people like me, and getting away with it. And it is enraging to see how little coverage these cases get, a throwaway that happened to pop up when I happened to look at the screen, and would have missed otherwise. How many other devalued lives have been snuffed out without any awareness on the media’s part at all?

Betty Anne Gagnon was a human being. She had feelings, memories, experiences, and life. And that was taken from her because of her disabilities, because people determined that she wasn’t a person, and therefore didn’t need even the minimum standard of care you would give to a human being: A bed, a warm room, food, a place to use the toilet. She was locked up in an outdoor dog run in Alberta in the winter.

The media reported on the vigil, but didn’t really provide hard statistical information about the abuse and murder of people with disabilities, beyond making vague references to the fact that we are more likely to experience abuse. Many of those articles were specifically framed to focus on caregivers, not actual people with disabilities. Caregivers to ‘speak for those who can’t,’ reminding us, yet again, that those of us who cannot communicate in a way that satisfies others are deemed ‘silent.’

When we talk about ableism, about social attitudes, this is what we are talking about. We are talking about the fact that Betty’s life was deemed worthless because of her disabilities, and that every mainstream narrative reinforced that, right down to the complete lack of interest in her death on the part of anyone other than a handful of disability rights activists.

I remember the Bettys of this world, because so few people will.

Recommended Reading for 19 July 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.

Hope Is Real: Fibromyalgia Is Not Caused By Men

I remember the invite said that the speaker thinks women have fibromyalgia, because of the stress of men not providing enough for women. This statement offends me to the core and it is just another example of patriarchial bullshit. It is not that I do not think we need each other, we do. People need people in order to survive, but I do not believe that there is one group of people who needs to care for womyn more than another. There are all kinds of communities of people who care for each other. What I take the most offense is it is the language of domination. It is not men who need to take care of womyn, but rather it is people that need to take care of people. I am not interested in someone solely taking care of me, but in being in a relationship where people take care of each other. I am interested in reciprocity

CTV News: Counsellors cite Afghan war for military domestic abuse [trigger warning for descriptions of violence]

“Our anecdotal evidence is that there is an increase in the amount of domestic violence, and in the amount of children who are seeing violence in the home.”

Many military members are now shouldering the residual stress of two, three or four tours in Afghanistan or more, Lubimiv said.

“When a soldier returns home, many have talked about feeling like strangers, not knowing where they fit. And it takes time to close that particular gap. And if there are, on top of that, mental health issues — or if there is already an issue of conflict or discontent in the couple’s relationship — then all of that gets magnified by the new experiences that they each have faced.”

Most troops will work through their issues on their own and gradually reintegrate, Lubimiv said. “But many don’t respond in that way, need additional help or haven’t been identified.”

Wisconsin State Journal: Vets cheer change on PTSD claim

The rule change will have its greatest effect on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans because so many non-combat personnel encounter roadside bombs, and because there are few places not in danger of mortar attacks or suicide bombs.

Even Wisconsin National Guard troops performing administrative jobs in Baghdad’s Green Zone were within range of mortar rounds that insurgents occasionally lobbed in blindly, said Bob Evans, the state Guard’s director of psychological health.

Most of the 3,200 members of the state Guard who had duties as prison guards or support personnel in Iraq last year underwent stress that could lead to PTSD, Evans said.

“I’ve seen people who weren’t even close to the battlefield who came down with PTSD and anxiety disorders,” Evans said.

Anishinaabekwe: We Are a Generation of Healers

We are a generation of healers because we can choose to turn the intergenerational trauma to intergenerational healing. We can start with ourselves and our families. I have been really blessed to have a family that is open and committed to healing. I know many people who have had to completely cut themselves off from their family and do healing on their own. In my healing work I have been able to reflect the inner work I have done on my family. In turn, each individual in my family can reflect the healing that they have done onto each other. I have worked in the Native community and will continue to do so. I can reflect and send the healing I have experienced in myself and in my family into the community. Healing happens in a circle.

Deeply Problematic: Wendy Garland dies after abuse and neglect from family

The death of Wendy Garland is horrific. Her abuse went unnoticed, unchecked because of ableism: societal devaluation of people with disabilities and misplaced trust in abled family members. Garland’s death is a direct result of abuse on the part of her caregivers, the people in her life that some want to canonize and position as her selfless saviors. Parents, partners, siblings and other folks taking care of persons with disabilities can be wonderful, but they are not necessarily helpful: they can hinder, they can neglect, they can abuse, they can hurt, they can kill.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Disability and Domestic Violence Apologism

Content note: This post discusses a domestic violence case involving a woman with disabilities, and includes details on domestic violence apologism as well as threats made in the court room.

Disability and domestic violence are intersecting issues with very serious consequences. People with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic violence and we are also less likely to receive assistance. We may be afraid of reporting, we may not be believed when we do report, and when our cases do go to court, sometimes the attorneys supposedly prosecuting our abusers engage in domestic violence apologism.

A recent court case in England is a classic example of what often plays out when people with disabilities are abused and report it. Two pensioners were married for 37 years. In 2003, the wife1 experienced a stroke. Seven years later, her husband started abusing her, because he apparently decided that her disability was an ‘act.’

On May 9 at about 11am [she] was sitting at the lounge table doing some paperwork. Earlier she had put some logs on a woodburner. He came in and said was she trying to burn the house down and then hit her around the head three or four times. She grabbed the phone to call the police but he took it off her and threw it in the fire. She then left the house and tried to get in her car but he took the keys.

‘She got in anyway and locked herself inside. He then drove his car in front of hers to block it, not that she could get anywhere as she didn’t have any keys. She called the day centre and her daughter for help. After about half an hour her daughter and son arrived.’

The next day, she reported her abuse to social services, and it ended up in court. Here’s what the defense said about the husband’s actions:

‘He couldn’t get any help with her because where they live is so remote so they were stuck together and the frustrations built.’

This type of apologism comes up a lot. ‘She made me do it’ is a classic excuse used for domestic violence regardless of disability status, and with disability in particular, it’s very popular, evidently, to make claims that it was the disability that drove the abuser into becoming abusive. This naturally legitimises abuse, because while people condemn it on the surface, they secretly think things like ‘well, he was under lots of pressure’ or ‘I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a caregiver’ or ‘it must be so hard to have no help.’ Caregiver abuse becomes acceptable because, well, disability is just such a burden and it’s so hard and they didn’t get the services they needed.

Caregiver abuse doesn’t stop with cases like the one above. There have been a number of cases this year alone where caregivers have killed people and it’s reported in the media as a tragedy for the caregiver. Courts tend to return more lenient verdicts to abusers and murderers when disability is involved, because of ‘unusual circumstances.’ And people wonder why some people with disabilities are concerned about caregiver abuse. When abuse of people with disabilities is painted as something sad or hard for their families to deal with, instead of abuse of human beings, when caregivers are given lenient sentences because ‘the disability drove them to it,’ it normalises caregiver abuse.

It’s bad enough that the defense and, apparently, the court in this case thought that the husband was somehow justified in behaving abusively towards his wife because she was disabled. The prosecutor also had to join in:

That day when he told her off about the fire, she gave him cheek so he slapped her.

Where have I heard this before? Oh, only in every single reported case of domestic violence ever. Was it really necessary for the prosecutor to hop on the victim-blaming bandwagon too? When the media and defense attorneys constantly parrot lines like this, it reinforces the idea that some people just deserve domestic violence, and when the prosecution joins in, it, well, it makes me really angry.

Because, guess what? No one deserves domestic violence. No matter how much cheek or lip or sass or anything else is involved. No person deserves to be hit. No person deserves to be deprived of mobility. No person deserves to sit in court while the attorney supposedly acting in her interests suggests that, well, she kinda deserved it.

Oh, but this case gets worse.

The 68-year-old was ordered to pay £150 compensation to [her] but he told the court that, as they had a joint account, he would hand it over to her and she would simply put it back in the bank.

Economic abuse is extremely common in domestic violence situations, especially when they involve people with disabilities. The fact that this man openly admitted in court to the fact that he would do this shows me exactly how much contempt he had for the court, the law, and his own wife. And the fact that the court didn’t sit up and take notice is a sad but not surprising reminder of how often people turn their heads in the other direction in the face of domestic violence and abuse.

The victim has been relocated and, from what I understand from the article, is living independently with an aide. That’s the one bright spot here: Too often in cases like this, the victim is forced to return to the abuser.

  1. The news story names the individuals involved in this case, but I prefer not to.