Friday, February 20, 2015

How Not to Report on Violence against Disabled Children

In Spokane, a woman stabbed her autistic son in the neck. Here is 100% of the information on the victim (link here):
Court documents say the 17-year-old son had several cut marks on his neck and throat, but officials say his wounds were not life threatening.
The rest of the piece is about how hard life must have been on the mother, building sympathy for her. It perpetuates the idea that autism is so terrible that it must be cured, eradicated, vanished. That violence against autistic people is reasonable. That (to cross news stories for a minute), it's better not to get vaccinated than to risk autism (NOTE: Vaccines do not cause autism. END NOTE). This kind of little news piece is part of the problem.

I wrote about this after the death of London McCabe.
London had autism. Media coverage of his death has widely focused on the stresses and challenges of raising a child with autism. In other words, the stories are about his mother and her problems finding help, not the dead boy.
This is a mistake. In all cases of violent crime, but especially those involving people with disabilities and their caregivers, we need to mourn the victims, rather than explain away their deaths. Unfortunately, whenever these terrible kinds of tragedies take place, which they do far too often, we do just the opposite.
Here, then, is a perfect example of what not to do.

And here's the thing, even if the mother's story is in fact tragic and filled with difficulty, even if she's struggling with all sorts of issues, even if she needed support that she didn't get, that's not the story we should be telling after an event like this. I want to tell stories about parents needing and getting more help, while advocating for policies that change lives. I tell these stories all the time, highlighting individuals and organizations, arguing for or against laws, and so forth.

But after an act of violence, we need to tell the boy's story. We tell about his life. We make sure that he's represented as a full person who didn't want to get stabbed in the neck. We must not blame the disability.

This story does exactly the opposite, going to a local parent at the Northwest Autism Center who ALSO talks about how hard her life is, not how meaningful her child's life is.

Disability community - we need to call this out, give better models to journalists, write to the NW Autism Center, and otherwise change this mode of journalism.

1 comment:

Denise said...

It reminds me of the reports out if England last year when the mother of children with spinal muscular atrophy killed her children and tried to commit suicide. We must tell the stories of the children, I agree.