Trigger warning: This post contains references to sexual assault, degrading comments about people with disabilities, and my own personal desire to hit certain people with blunt objects. (Disclaimer to the authorities: I will not actually hit people with blunt objects, but just write about it in a cathartic way.)
I’m sitting in a coffee shop on 75th and Broadway in New York, watching the foot traffic outside on the street. I’m sipping my coffee. I am supposed to be doing homework. Instead, I am imagining setting the whole street on fire. All of them. The little old lady with her groceries in a trolley, the man tying his pit bull mix to a railing so he can come in the shop and get coffee, the nannies and their little kids, the cabbies, the FedEx delivery man. All of them. Because for the first time in my sheltered, sheltered life, I could see the straight line of connection between people who don’t give a thought one way or the other to people with disabilities, people who mock people with disabilities, and people who purposefully harm people with disabilities. Somebody hurt my sister. Somebody hurt my sister, and I blame the whole world, everybody, for not recognizing how evil people are on the one hand and how vulnerable she is on the other. People who think that now that we have integrated public schools, everything’s fine.
Everything’s not fine. I’m not fine. My sister’s not fine. My parents aren’t fine. And if I had my way, none of the people strolling up and down Broadway would be fine, either. I know that setting a city on fire is not productive, but I don’t know where to go. When I Google “special needs and sexual assault,” most of what I get in return is news articles citing instances in which disabled adults were assaulted, a few discussion forums mocking said assaults (choice quote: “Sexual contact is a beautiful thing, and this will be her first and last encounter, since she’s a downer.”). If 85% of women with cognitive disabilities are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, why can I find NO RESOURCES specifically geared towards people who occupy the middle of the Venn diagram made of “Sexual Assault Victims” and “Cognitively Disabled”? Do people who specialize in counseling sexual assault victims know how to talk to somebody with Down’s? Do people who know how to talk to people with Down’s know how to talk to sexual assault victims?
Does the rest of the world know, or care, that my sister was hurt in this way?
It’s hard for me to not be polemical. It’s hard to not be extreme. It’s hard, because I can’t destroy the man who did this to my sister, to not want to destroy everyone else too, everyone who contributes to this society in which my sister doesn’t matter.
When the Allies liberated the death camps in 1944, hundreds of thousands of Jews and Gypsies and political prisoners were freed. Thousands of imprisoned men who had been imprisoned as homosexuals remained in the camps, because being gay was illegal to the Allies, just as it was to the Nazis. Jews weren’t criminals (so they were freed), but fags were (so they weren’t).
Nobody freed the physically and/or mentally disabled from the camps. Why not? They were already all dead. The Nazis had killed them, 200,000+ between 1939-1945. They had photographed them and imprisoned them and experimented on them and sterilized them, and then they euthenized them. Hitler practiced his Final Solution on the retards before he did it to anybody else. They called it a “mercy death.”
Does 200,000 deaths compare to 6,000,000? No. I’m not saying it does. It’s less than the number of people who died in the Battle of the Somme in World War II. But there’s a general silence on the brutality with which people with developmental disabilities have long been treated by Western civilization, and it probably started in 5000 BC when babies with Down syndrome being left exposed on hillsides in ancient Greece. If people don’t know how people with Down’s were treated in the 1940s (and not just in Germany, but all over Europe and America), why should they care how they’re treated now? How do we get to see that when we talk about caring for people with special needs, we need to include adults in that discussion, and not just children? The amount of structure and socialization in my sister’s life has decreased dramatically since she graduated high school, but her need for such services hasn’t, and as a result, she’s more vulnerable–in all kinds of ways–than she was ten years ago. Who suffers the most when the economy takes a downturn? We could argue about it all day, but my money’s on the people who already can’t defend themselves, who have few resources, who are vulnerable–people already below the poverty line, people with debilitating mental illness, people with cognitive disabilities who rely on SSI and social nets to maintain their quality of life.
Tell me why I shouldn’t be enraged. Really, tell me why.
This whole string of events has gotten me to swear off the word retarded just as much as anything else, to be honest. Indifference leads to harm. It led to harm. My sister was at work when this happened, at a place that is experienced at employing people with cognitive disabilities. If they couldn’t keep her safe, who can?
The most important things, says Stephen King, are the hardest things to say. I still don’t know how to talk about this. I don’t even know what I want, really. I don’t know if I’m violating my sister’s privacy in writing this. I don’t have any answers for anybody. I don’t have any resources.
But 85% is far too large of a percentage for any society who calls itself ethical to tolerate.
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