Category Archives: violence

Carer hits PWD on the head in public; World points and laughs

No, it is not fucking ok for carers to hit people with disabilities on the head when they don’t do as they’re told. NOT. OK.

Why does this need saying?

At a football game at Saltergate, groups of Chesterfield fans “invaded” the pitch joyfully as their team defeated Bournemouth.

The Sun described the scene thus:

Supporters dodged stewards to pay their parting tribute to the League Two side before they move next season to a new ground in the town. Among them was a man on crutches and the young man wearing a baseball cap and dressed in the club’s blue and white colours in his wheelchair furiously pushing his wheels and speeding across the pitch.

Moments later an older man dashes on to the pitch and grabs the wheelchair and pushes it back to the stands. And as the youngster is shoved back across the pitch the older man gives him a playful clip across the head.

A spokesman for Chesterfield said: “It was a good natured pitch invasion resulted after the goal. To everyone’s amusement one youngster in a wheelchair got twenty yards on before being rushed off by an embarrassed helper.”

[WARNING for video footage]

This footage has been called “heart-warming” and “comical”, “legendary“, “hilarious” and “brilliant”, “touching” and “a joy”, “fantastic” and “priceless“.

One forum user said “The clip round the ear after is the best bit.”, another “The clip round the ear, pissed myself.”; another said “The slap on the head is great”.

I just want to cry. This footage is horrifying – assault and battery of a PWD who cannot get away, perpetrated by a carer, in full view of thousands. Assaults like this happen every day behind closed doors, as abusive carers and healthcare workers who have PWD trapped and dependent hit them and neglect them and rape them. And people around the world are laughing at this assault.

What is there to say? What is wrong with the world?

Why SF’s Proposed Sit/Lie Laws Are a Terrible Idea

In San Francisco currently, there is something of a debate brewing about Mayor Newsom’s proposed sit/lie laws, which would make it illegal for anyone to sit or lie on any public curb or street in San Francisco (with a couple of exceptions).

The intersections with disability here are rather clear. For one thing, there are some intersections between homelessness and disability, because some homeless people are, for example, mentally ill or have disabling physical problems. Do either of these things make them unworthy of compassion, or not human? Of course not, but from the way this proposed ordinance is designed, it is, on a very basic level, criminalizing homelessness even more than it is already criminalized (not to mention socially stigmatized), while taking extra “common sense” steps to avoid citing non-homeless people for an offense. Observe the following response to concerns that SF police would begin to crack down on non-homeless people were the laws to go into effect:

During a heated, five-hour Board of Supervisors public safety committee hearing on the issue Monday, Adachi showed photographs of behavior that would be illegal under Newsom’s proposed law: a well-heeled tourist sitting on her luggage as she waits for a cab, a little boy sitting on a sidewalk clutching his skateboard, and tourists sitting on a curb and gazing up at the sights.

Assistant Police Chief Kevin Cashman said all of those people would be warned first to move and that none of them would probably receive a citation.

“Obviously common sense is going to be part of the training with enforcement of this statute,” he said at the hearing.

Ah, yes, “common sense.” Common sense, apparently, still makes the further stigmatization of homeless people de rigeur. Because apparently, they don’t deserve to sit down in public, unlike “well-heeled” tourists and neighborhood residents. I wonder what the response to a person with disabilities — tourist or not — needing to sit down on a public street might be? Someone waiting for an ambulance? While that is approaching a bit of a slippery slope argument (which I generally like to avoid), it is worth considering, simply because “common sense” will mean different things to different people — those whose job it is to enforce the statute included.

Also interesting is the framing of this ordinance in terms of concern for children. From one of the SF Gate articles:

Newsom, who bought a home in the Haight recently, was convinced to support an ordinance after walking along Haight Street with his infant daughter and seeing someone smoking crack and blocking the entrance of a business.

Certainly, children need to be protected from dangerous situations or potentially dangerous situations, but is an ordinance that criminalizes the poor and homeless — not all of whom are recreational drug users or addicts — really the way to do it?

Additionally, nowhere have I seen any plan to increase the number of homeless shelters or services for homeless people attached to this ordinance. The implicit message behind these proposed sit/lie laws seems clear: It’s too bad you’re homeless, but don’t you dare be homeless on our streets, because it might make our city look bad. Oh, and you certainly shouldn’t expect the city to help you not be homeless — even after it cites you for breaking the sit/lie law.

(Cross-posted to ham blog)

Bullying – How Can We Stop It?

Here’s another horrific story of bullying, this coming out of Dickson, Oklahoma.

Austin Avery was born prematurely and suffered developmental issues as a result. Last week, when the school called [his mother] Sharlene,  she  knew something was seriously wrong. “We had a call from the school to come pick him up cause he was hallucinating. I just don’t understand why your child goes to school and comes home in a drunken stupor,” says Avery. So, she put him in the car and drove to the emergency room. That’s when doctors told her something she never imagined. “The doctor said that [Austin] was way over the legal limit [for alcohol]. Now, can you imagine a 14-year-old child and what kind of damage that can do to his brain?”

The investigation yielded a report from a fellow student, who reported that bullies had been putting Germ-X, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, in Austin’s milk at lunchtime. This had been occurring regularly since January, without detection by the school or any adult in a position to discipline the bullies.

There are a couple things of note about this story. First is that it got virtually no coverage – I saw it only because I read several hip-hop gossip sites that picked the story up because the child is African-American. Other than those sites, I found absolutely no mention of it anywhere on the web other than the initial report from a local news outlet, quoted above. Intentionally poisoning a child with hand sanitizer seems like a pretty big deal to me – there could have been much more significant and detrimental side effects than alcohol intoxication, and even alcohol intoxication is dangerous enough when we’re talking about a 14 year old with developmental disabilities.

The second thing of note about this story is that Oklahoma already has an extremely robust anti-bullying law and state policy aimed at eliminating bullying. A watchdog anti-bulling group gives the Oklahoma law an A, indicating it is “near perfect” by their standards. Here is a description of their anti-bullying law:

Requires Safe School Committees to give special attention to bullying, incidents of unwanted physical or verbal aggression and sexual harassment and make recommendations. Encourages community involvement, one-on-one student/staff relationships, use of problem solving teams of counselors and/or school psychologists and requires the review of bullying prevention programs utilized by other states, agencies or school districts.  Requires each school district to have policies addressing the prevention of bullying and education about bullying behavior.

So – given that all those rules, policies, requirements, and education were insufficient to stop Austin from being regularly and consistently poisoned for almost four months – how can we realistically address and stop this kind of bullying from happening? How can we provide meaningful protection for children with disabilities? Is it possible to do so through laws and regulations, or will only a long term shift in ableist attitudes be effective?

Recommended Reading for April 20, 2010

Scott Carney (Mother Jones magazine): Inside India’s Rent-a-Womb Business

Despite the growth in services, surrogacy is not officially regulated in India. There are no binding legal standards for treatment of surrogates, nor has any state or national authority been empowered to police the industry. While clinics have a financial incentive to ensure the health of the fetus, there’s nothing to prevent them from cutting costs by scrimping on surrogate pay and follow-up care, or to ensure they behave responsibly when something goes wrong.

Benedict Carey (New York Times): Seeking Emotional Clues Without Facial Cues

Ms. Bogart has Moebius syndrome, a rare congenital condition named for a 19th-century neurologist that causes facial paralysis. When the people she helped made a sad expression, she continued, “I wasn’t able to return it. I tried to do so with words and tone of voice, but it was no use. Stripped of the facial expression, the emotion just dies there, unshared. It just dies.”

Goldfish at Diary of a Goldfish: Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) Will be on May 1st, 2010

Blogging Against Disablism day will be on Saturday, 1st May. This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people will blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made. [Note: Click the link for info on how you can participate in BADD 2010!]

Max Harrold (Montreal Gazette): Filmmaker in wheelchair says red-carpet rejection inspired film

[Filmmaker Sean Marckos] has it all on video: He and a colleague, both in tuxedos and with their tickets in hand, being hustled out of the famous Palais des festivals in Cannes in 2008 and 2009. They were told they could enter only through a rear entrance, away from paparazzi. “They didn’t want me next to the beautiful people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,” said Marckos, 31, who has muscular dystrophy.

National Center For Lesbian Rights (NCLR): Greene vs. County of Sonoma et al.

One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

Stigma Kills: A Concrete Example

Often when bloggers or activists push back against ableist language and stereotypes in the media, especially pop culture, someone will respond with an argument that there are more important disability issues to address and that the topic at hand is mostly irrelevant to disability rights as a whole. This has happened with each of the posts in the Ableist Word Profile series, it’s happened with discussion about ableist tropes in pop culture, it’s happened when critiquing the vast overrepresentation of criminal behavior in news coverage of people with mental illness.

I believe these things matter very much. Perhaps not individually – if I slip and use the word “lame” pejoratively, it does not automatically cause a person with a disability to die instantly. But each individual instance adds up to become a trend, to become a larger understanding and expectation of how things are. And if those understandings and expectations aren’t accurate, it can have dramatically horrific results.

This is because a lot of our ongoing decisionmaking is done automatically, unconsciously. This is because we are constantly presented with such a vast amount of information that if we stopped to consciously evaluate everything, we’d never be able to do anything at all. When I see an object with keys labeled with letters and laid out in the QWERTY design, I recognize it as a keyboard an assume I use it to manually input written data into a computer or typewriter or phone or other device. This saves me the trouble of figuring out each and every time what this object is, what it is for, how I am supposed to interact with it, and what end result I can expect. I do this instantly, even though it is immensely complicated – it has been extraordinarily difficult to program a computer to identify, say, a keyboard from a photo or video, regardless of lighting, angle, and lots of other variables that the brain can process almost instantly.

There are similar examples for evaluating other sensory input. When I touch something, I know instantly and without consciously considering it whether the object is solid or liquid, dry or wet. I have no idea how I make that evaluation and instructing someone else on making that judgment would be immensely difficult for me – but when my foot touches a wet patch of carpet en route to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I pull my foot back lightning fast to avoid what is surely cat puke. If I feel myself losing balance, I put out a hand to catch myself without consciously deciding to, because my classification of my sensations as “losing balance” was done entirely unconsciously.

How does stigma fit into this? Well, a stereotype is an unconscious cognitive shortcut – instead of examining an individual person or situation, we apply a stereotype to make assumptions. While a stereotype is usually seen as a negative thing, they serve an important purpose by allowing us to make educated guesses. For example, when I go into a fast food restaurant, I know to go to the counter and give my order to someone behind the counter, usually wearing a uniform. While this has held true at the places I’ve visited in the past, if I go to an new fast food restaurant that I haven’t visited before, I will assume that I use the same procedure. That’s a useful assumption that saves me the time and energy of approaching each situation as brand new and unrelated.

There are times when stereotypes can be harmful and damaging, as we well know. The stigma against PWDs is an assumption applied to all PWDs simply because they are PWDs, assuming they have a set of presumed characteristics, motivations, and beliefs. It is a stereotype composed of all the understandings and expectations of PWDs conveyed by all the little things – the word choices of the people you talk to, that one character in that on tv show, that story you saw on the news last night. And although the specifics fade away, most people are left with vague, unconscious associations. Again, some of these associations are essentially value-neutral, as how I generally associate red with “stop” and green with “go” from traffic lights and signs. But people can also have unconscious associations around more complex and problematic issues, like race, gender, and disability status.

Social psychologists from Harvard developed a computer-based test to measure the existence of implicit associations and stereotypes – the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The IAT asks users to rapidly categorize words to the left or right of the screen. From the IAT FAQ:

The IAT asks you to pair two concepts (e.g., young and good, or elderly and good). The more closely associated the two concepts are, the easier it is to respond to them as a single unit. So, if young and good are strongly associated, it should be easier to respond faster when you are asked to give the same response (i.e. the ‘E’ or ‘I’ key [to indicate left or right]) to these two. If elderly and good are not so strongly associated, it should be harder to respond fast when they are paired. This gives a measure of how strongly associated the two types of concepts are. The more associated, the more rapidly you should be able to respond. The IAT is one method for measuring implicit or automatic attitudes and is featured on this website. There are other methods, using different procedures, that have been investigated in laboratory studies.

I’ve taken a number of IATs before (because I’m dorky about cognitive science and this kind of stuff) and believe that they have correctly identified in me some negative unconscious associations. For example, I unconsciously associated women with home and family and men with business. Consciously, I strongly disagree with that association! So when I do consciously consider my assumptions about those associations, I override and reject my unconscious associations.

When researching this post, I took the IAT that measures unconscious associations around disability. (I can’t link directly to that test, but it can be found in the IAT demonstrations available here.) Taking the test, I found that I have a slight automatic preference for abled people over PWDs. This doesn’t mean that when I act, speak, or even think about these issues I exhibit that preference. It doesn’t mean that I “really” prefer TABs to PWDs. It means that I have been sufficiently inundated by messages that associate TABs with “good” and PWDs with “bad” that I have a slight unconscious tendency to apply that association, a tendency almost instantaneously overruled by my conscious thought. So it is an association that exists only for the tiniest of moments until it is extinguished by cognition.

How can those tiny moments, almost too small to measure, even matter? Well, as Chally recently posted about, a Los Angeles police officer shot and killed an unarmed man with an unspecific cognitive disability autism [1. ETA since his family disclosed that he had autism in numerous public interviews.]. The officer fired as the man reached towards his waistband after failing to respond to verbal commands from the police. From the LA Times article linked in the post:

[LAPD Officers] Corrales and Diego believed “he [the PWD] was arming himself” and fired, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said at an afternoon news conference.

The officers made decisions in a fraction of a second,” he added.

In a fraction of a second.

Just long enough for the unconscious association to spark but not long enough for conscious thought to override it.

Just long enough for stigma to kill.

No title for this one.

I wanted to draw your attention to this article from the Los Angeles Times, Police fatally shoot unarmed man in Koreatown:

Los Angeles Police officers shot and killed a man in Koreatown early Saturday morning after he reached into his waistband for what officers believed was a weapon, authorities said.

The man was twenty-seven year old Steven Eugene Washington, and he died after a single shot to the head. The officers are Allan Corrales and George Diego; both fired and it’s not known as yet whose bullet hit Mr Washington. Both officers have been reassigned until the investigation is over.

The article goes on to say that ‘Washington’s relatives criticized police and said the dead man had suffered from a learning disability and was generally afraid of strangers. They insisted that he was not violent and that he probably was walking home after visiting a friend.’

One has to wonder how, in such a situation as officers deemed it necessary to shoot, the bullet hit such a vulnerable mark as a head, given that police are trained to not shoot fatally where possible. (Edit: It seems that this is not so universal as I’d thought; Lauredhel’s understanding is that police are trained to not shoot unless they have to shoot someone at once, in which case the only reliable way is a kill shot.) One has to wonder about how and why police shootings of innocent people are as common as they are. But that’s not what I want to focus on today.

I want to point to how dangerous assumptions about normative behaviour are to PWD. There’s a great deal of potential for acts that are quite in line with harmless behaviour for the way one’s brain works to be read by others as scary, threatening, dangerous. All too often, though, it’s those abled folk who feel threatened who end up doing the harm.

The police officers were expecting one thing, but the reality was quite another. And they were the ones with the power.

And a man has died for it.

We Need to Consider More than Universities

There’s a lot of really good stuff out in the blogoamorphia[1. Sphere, pshyeah.] 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 behavior[2. MY SARCASTIC VOICE LET ME SHOW IT YOU.]) 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.

SSRIs, Violence, Walking, and Dogs

Recently a link was making the rounds on Tumblr about how SSRI anti-depressants caused violent and homicidal reactions in people (h/t to the lovely Cara for making sure we saw it). I was largely ignoring it because, frankly, there’s a lot of unproductive discussions about whether SSRIs, or anti-depressants in general, or even psychotropic drugs as a whole, are teh most awesome things ever! or an evil tool of big pharma or poisoning our children or should be put in the water supply to help the population at large. And my attitude towards psych treatment, whether it be therapy or medication or anything else, is pretty similar to my attitude about religion: everyone has the right to make their own determinations about their treatment and whether they would or would not like to take psych meds, and just as my atheism doesn’t make someone else’s faith any less valid, I can support someone’s decision to reject psych meds without lessening my own right to believe they help me personally. (To extend that, I support anyone’s right and decision to pursue or not pursue any kind of treatment, to identify as they feel appropriate, and to reject the whole framework and basis of psychiatry.)

That said, I thought it might be useful to take a look at this article to discuss some of the issues I see in a lot of these arguments and discussions. The basic gist of the article is to publicize an archive of “3,500 crime related news reports linked to the use of SSRI antidepressants … Pharma and the FDA may still be agnostic about SSRIs causing violence but 700 murders, 200 murder-suicides and 47 postpartum depression cases, including the 2006 case of Andrea Yates who drowned her five children on Effexor, don’t lie.” The article describes the site as “more of a public service than the FDA which has yet to withdraw the drugs named in the 3,500 stories–or even call them dangerous,” so the clear goal of the article is to encourage prohibition of SSRIs as a class.

That’s a pretty broad goal to be supported by such thin and unconvincing evidence – and that’s my problem with these kinds of arguments. Whenever I talk about these kinds of science articles, I often use the same phrase: “correlation does not equal causation.” This means that although two variables may be very closely associated, there’s not enough information to figure out which of them causes the other, or even if the two are related by anything more than chance and coincidence. A simple example is that everyone who orders food at McDonald’s is a human. Can we assume that if a dog walked into McDonald’s and ordered food, it would magically transform into a human because of the correlation between ordering at McDonald’s and being human? No.

To unpack this further, let’s look at the fact that a lot of people who walk in my neighborhood have dogs. I know some people who got dogs specifically in order to encourage themselves to do more walking – so the dog is influencing how often they walk. However, I also know people who do a lot of running or hiking and got a dog to keep them company on their outings – so their walking/running influenced their having a dog. So does being a person who walks outdoors make you more likely to get a dog, or does having a dog make you more likely to walk outdoors? We just do not have enough information to figure that out. This means my observations of walkers and dogs should not justify a public policy to issue dogs to every household to ensure people walk outdoors.

To extend this to the SSRI stories, there’s not enough evidence for us to determine if people who are not violent or homicidal become so when they are given SSRIs, or whether people who are already violent or homicidal are likely to be given SSRIs for treatment. And that’s a very important thing to be absolutely clear on when we’re talking about having the FDA eliminate an entire class of anti-depressants that some (including me) rely on for treatment.

There’s a couple other factors in the dog analogy that I also see at play in this SSRI story:

  • Observer bias: I think dogs are pretty cute, so when I’m out and about, I tend to notice pedestrians with dogs more than I do pedestrians without dogs. So if I see 10 pedestrians and 4 of them have dogs, I’m much more likely to notice and remember the dog people and think that the majority of pedestrians have dogs. Similarly, self described “anti-SSRI advocates” are more likely to notice and prioritize instances where SSRIs occur with violent behavior.
  • Who is observed: I happen to live two blocks from the most popular dog park in town, so people from miles away drive here in order to hike with their dogs. There are a lot of trails that don’t allow dogs and if I lived right next to one of them, I’d likely see a lot more walkers who are dogless. So I’m not looking at the entire population of walkers and dog owners when I’m observing a connection between those two characteristics – I’m looking at a population more likely to suggest to me that the two are connected. Similarly, the SSRI stories are drawn entirely from crime reporting. Stories about people who take SSRIs and do not engage in violent, homicidal, or otherwise criminal behavior are not going to be in a crime story – so the archive is looking at a subset of SSRI-takers that is more likely to confirm their perception that SSRIs cause criminal behavior.
  • Interpreting evidence to fit desired results: when growing up, I tried out the “dogs will make me walk and exercise more” argument on my parents. This is because I wanted to get a dog, and I was trying to put together any argument I could to support that conclusion – I had started with the conclusion instead of with the evidence. Some of the stories mentioned in the article make me wonder if the SSRI stories suffer from the same problem. One of the quoted stories is “Lynyrd Skynyrd harmonicist Mike Caruso’s remark that, ‘the doctor put me on Cymbalta. That turned me manic.'” To me, giving an anti-depressant to someone with undiagnosed bipolar and triggering manic behavior is a very different argument than if taking the SSRI created violent or homicidal behavior that hadn’t previously existed in the person.

In order to convince me that SSRI used caused these behaviors in people who otherwise would not display them, I would want to see a clinical study where people were observed before and after starting SSRI treatment and a control group was also monitored while not having SSRI treatment. Those kinds of scientific studies are the only way to meaningfully determine whether the two variables have any kind of causal relationship.[1] And without that data, this article does a lot more harm than good – by reinforcing existing perceptions that criminals are all mentally ill and by shaming or scaring people who take and benefit from SSRIs.

[1] I should note that requests for data and scientific studies are often used to invalidate or minimize reported personal experiences from marginalized groups, an academic privilege argument of sorts. I do and continue to credit individual experiences where SSRI treatment caused specific behaviors for that individual, but I feel very uncomfortable making blanket decisions about whether or not these drugs should be available at all, for anyone, based on third party descriptions of the experiences of others.

It Will Always Be The First Thing I Think Of


I’ve been under some significant emotional stress lately, more so than usual. And I’ve had a couple of incidents when I received some very upsetting news. Of course I’ve cried. Sobbed, even. And reached out to my friends and family and cared for myself in all the healthy and productive ways I learned in my years of therapy. Take a hot bath. Read a good book. Snuggle with the kitty. Get enough sleep. All that kind of thing.

But before that – before the tears even start welling up, much less spilling over – my mind flashes on an image of my left forearm. Sometimes it’s being slashed with a razor blade. Sometimes it’s being burned with a cigarette or the hot metal of a lighter. In one particularly vivid recent image, my left wrist was being smashed with a hammer. This happens in less than seconds, before any other reaction. It’s entirely unconscious and I’m often surprised by how quickly and vividly the images take over my consciousness.

I used to self harm a lot. I thought I’d made it up myself, back when I realized that scratching at one spot on my skin with a thumbnail would peel back the skin to expose glistening wet red pain. I quickly progressed to razor blades and learned the exquisite joy of making a perfectly straight line in my skin, imposing some kind of geometry and order on my out of control body that would hopefully extend into my increasingly disordered mind. I learned how pressing a hot lighter to the inside of my ankle would send a poker of pain straight up my body in a wave so powerful it drove out every other sensation or thought. I learned about long sleeves in summer, the trick of putting a painful cut on the inside of my wrist so it would throb every time I took my mittens on or off. My arms looked so bad people thought I was using heroin. (Even writing this out makes me want it.)

And then I stopped. (Not so easily, of course, lots of safety contracts and lists of health coping activities and techniques and medication and relapsing and all of that. But I stopped.) And it’s been … I don’t even remember the last time I did it. Over 10 years, certainly. Long enough that you can hardly see any of the scars unless you know exactly where to look.

But it is still the first thing I think of. My first unconscious innate reaction to stress or emotional pain or just feeling overwhelmed and drowned by my own emotions. It is always there, just under the skin, waiting for me to be weak enough for it to take over again. That’s why I will never trust myself enough to have a razor blade or an x-acto knife in the house – I know that if they’re there, I’ll lose my way sometime.

[I just turned my head and saw two straight pins sitting on the desk (I was mending a hem) and *boom* I see them plunging into my wrist, just near the bone. It’s not that I imagine the process of picking them up – my mind flashes straight to an image of me pushing it into my skin, with the idea that “this is right, this is good.” I can almost feel myself relaxing while I visualize it and then I shake my head and it’s gone and I’m disappointed in myself for even thinking of it.]

I’m beginning to think it will never stop. I may never do it again – I hope I never do it again, I intend never to do it again – but it will always be there. It will always be the first thing I think of, before there’s even time to think.

Not So Silent

As I’m typing this, it’s the wee hours of the morning of December 6th. Today marks the 20th year since the Montreal Massacre, when Marc Lepin walked into the Ecole Polytechnique and murdered 14 women, blaming feminism for ruining his life. (He also injured 10 other women, and 4 men, before turning the gun on himself.)

Over the past 20 years, I’ve probably attended 14 memorials for the Massacre. The ones I’m most familiar with were the ones held at the first university I attended. There, we would gather in a solemn circle lit only by candles. 14 young women would each read the name of one of the dead, and blow out their candle, and we would mourn.

Last year I attended Halifax’s first “Not So Silent Vigil”. Instead of focusing on the murders in Montreal, this vigil was for all the women in Canada who have been victims of domestic violence. Speakers, singers, dancers, and even a hilarious feminist comedienne took on the subject of violence and sexism. There was a moment of silence, in memory of our dead. There was a moment of screaming, for the women who cannot or will not scream.

We have this memorial for gender-based violence every year. In recent years, national vigils have begun to remind us of dead and missing First Nations women (Sisters in Spirit Vigil [PDF]) There are vigils around the world for trans* men and women. We are beginning, slowly, to talk about how these different identities mean that some women’s deaths count, while others don’t merit more than page B3 in the local news.

The Not-So-Silent Vigil (last year) was a group project where many women representing many groups in Halifax came together and created a dramatic and moving experience. I found it to be inclusive of First Nations women and Africa-Nova Scotian women, although others may have different opinions.

It was until I was walking home with Don that I realised that there had been no mention of women with disabilities.

I don’t fault the people behind the Vigil for this. They did a lot of hard work to bring together the groups that they did, and I have no idea if more people will be involved this year, if women with disabilities will be included. (If not this year, then I should get myself involved for next year – I think the women who do this work every year take on a great deal, and I wouldn’t want to ask them to do more than they already are.)

But I also wonder – would it be controversial for me to ask for a moment of silence and screaming for Tracy Latimer? Every time her murderer, her father, comes up for parole, the newspapers take the opportunity to argue whether or not it was morally wrong for him to murder Tracy. People argue that he should be released, because it’s not like he’ll kill again. Disabled children don’t come along every day, after all.

I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to write about this. I don’t want to risk being told that the murder of women with disabilities is a special interest that shouldn’t be brought up at this memorial. But at the same time, I have no reason to believe that I would be told that (except that I’ve been told that in the past, about other memorials to violence against women, but not by this group). Is it appropriative to want to name our names, to remind everyone that violence against us is sometimes considered okay, because our lives are considered less worthy?

Katie-Lynn Baker was starved to death by her mother. Her murderer argued that she could tell Katie-Lynn, who had Rett Syndrome (a form of autism) and couldn’t speak, wanted to die, so she just stopped feeding the 10 year old girl. Her murderer was never even charged with a crime.

Chelsea Craig was fed a lethal dose of medication by her mother, who was found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. The accused claimed she murdered Chelsea because she didn’t want to leave Chelsea alone with her father.

The murderer of Charles-Antoine Blais drowned him in the tub because his autism was too much for her. After her year of community service, she became a spokesperson for an Autism foundation in Montreal. He was 6 years old.

We don’t talk about these names, these deaths, very often. Tracy’s comes up whenever her murderer is up for parole, but I had a hard time finding information about the other names, about Chelsea and Katie-Lynn and Charles-Antoine. We don’t seem to have a national memorial, a day to honour the children who are murdered for being disabled, the women who are raped for being institutionalized, the beating and torture of cripples done out of boredom. We don’t recite the names of our dead.

Should we? Should I incite controversy and recite the names today? Should I shout them during our moment of screaming, for myself if no one else? Should I approach the women who have worked so hard on this vigil and ask to be a part of it, so next year I can recite the names of every woman with disabilities murdered in Canada in the next 12 months?

Is silence ever the right answer?

Today we remember our dead, killed for being women and daring to attend Engineering School, and I recite these names, like a rosary, every year.

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

I hope you will all forgive me, but this has taken 2 1/2 hours to write, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to discuss it.