Sunday, November 29, 2015

An Open Letter to Destroy the Joint – We’re Waiting

Dear Destroy the Joint

Last week, you told us that you apologised for excluding us from your page and from the ongoing conversation about violence against women.

This is what you said;

Dear Destroyers,

Let us begin with a belated and unreserved apology about the way we have handled the comment moderation in this instance. We acknowledge we can always be more inclusive. We are constantly discussing ways we can achieve this and no woman living with disability should be excluded from this page. Anyone who has been banned as a result of this will be unbanned. Please email so we can be thorough about this.

It has always been our mission to include everyone and Counting Dead Women includes all women who have been killed as a result of gendered violence.

We have left this post here, along with all the feedback so we could gain a better understanding of how the events have unfolded and how the way we have run the page may have contributed to it. We want to do the right thing by all women. For this reason, we will take a short break to reflect on how we can ensure no one feels excluded from this page. Women are diverse. We will continue to honour all women killed because of gendered violence in Australia.

We hear you and we need to time to reassess. You are the reason we exist. You have been very clear about what you think Destroy The Joint has done wrong. Thank you for your feedback. We needed it.

But since then, we haven’t heard a word from you. You’re not returning our calls nor talking about dead disabled women, despite the news that a Senate Inquiry recommended a Royal Commission into violence against people with disability and that the news has been full of items around violence and disability. You’ve broken up with us after a relationship we’ve never had.

Last Wednesday, three of our sisters, Senators Siewert, Moore and Lindgren, wore a dried white rose pinned to their jackets as they tabled the Inquiry report that called for a Royal Commission. The roses were dried after the Bolshy Divas, a disability activist group, lay a white rose on the table at the Senate hearing to mark the death of each name they called. You'd think the calling for a Royal Commission into the abuse and murders of dead disabled women would be enough for you to give us a call - but there hasn't been a word.

We think that a week has been long enough for you to ‘reassess’. We expected that you’d contact some of us – any of us – given the scores of articles that emerged about this issue, including this one by Katie Ellis in the Conversation, or perhaps even include us in a post about abuse and violence. But we are not present in your conversations.

What have you left out? Well, since we spoke to you last, these things have happened.

On White Ribbon Day, a poignant memorial was held in the heart of Sydney to remember dead disabled women, men and children who had died as a result of violence, abuse and neglect. The names of the dead were called, the names of the uncounted were recognised. This was the same event that you’d refused to acknowledge and you’d asked us to share it in a ‘disability activist space’.

Australia recognised that the abuse of people with disability was so widespread that it urgently needed a Royal Commission to investigate the abuse.

In Toronto, an article was published saying that a disabled couple were ‘allowed’ to keep their child. Jax Jackie Brown was one of the disabled women who talked about the intersectional issues around removal of children and how that intersects with marriage equality, because gendered stereotypes about what it means to be a mother contribute to the likelihood of children being removed from our care.

Senator Rachel Siewert published an opinion piece in the Guardian saying that disability abuse was a national shame.

Two women, Keran Howe and Julie Phillips, a disabled woman and a parent of a child with a disability, were awarded national awards for their advocacy work around violence prevention and awareness raising around students with disabilities.
This is what we’re talking about in the disability community.

Yesterday, as Kelly Cox and I were about to board a train in Sydney, a woman with a mental health condition was being beaten in a public space. She was dark skinned, and the passersby streamed past them both, like a river round a rock, even when she screamed for help. She had a black eye that her assailant had given her a few days earlier and we discovered that the man hitting her was less frightening to her than police, than being sectioned, than going to hospital. As the paramedic arrived, her eyes widened with fear. She was scared about files being created about her, in case she wanted to have more children, she said. When I asked if she had children, her eyes filled with tears.

He was her friend, she said. He was keeping her safe from other people, worse people, from prostitution, from rape, she said. Women like this woman are not often represented in conversations about domestic and family violence – she had a brain injury, her assailant told me, and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She lived a violent life and has no pathways to safety.

Her story was like a period to this week’s acts of exclusion. We are excluded because we are the wrong people – we are excluded from feminist spaces because we are disabled, trans women, women of colour, indigenous women, sex workers, intersex, queer or other. We women do not ask to be included by your group and other groups that represent feminist spaces – we demand it.

We’re not hard to find, nor to engage with. Now that you’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the ways disability politics are essential to feminist politics, we’re expecting a call.

Sam Connor -

Image description - a paper heart is stitched together after being torn. A needle and thread lies nearby.

Monday, November 23, 2015

On the Bus

It is so frustrating.

Destroy the Joint are counting dead women, mostly women who are killed by men.

Destroy the Narrative are counting dead men, only those who have been killed by women.

For both those groups, they are counting the people who have been killed 'this year'.

But for many people with disability, nobody is counting. Nobody knows when we are dead. The story of an Autistic boy who was killed by his mother and stepfather - he was bound to a chair, doused with cold water and put in a garden shed, where he died of hypothermia - only went to court this month, in 2015. He had died in 2011. Rebecca Lazarus, a woman murdered by her partner outside her group home in 2007, also went unnoticed, uncounted for over five years. On the 14 November 2012, 1960 days after Lazarus was brutally murdered, the Coroners Court of Victoria released its report, a “Finding Without Inquest”. Until then, nobody knew - and perhaps that was because nobody cared.

Our deaths 'must be for some other reason, it is not like other violence'. Last week, a feminist organisation suggested that the details of a memorial to commemorate the lives of dead disabled women, men and children should be placed on 'a disability activist page'.

We will never make change until our deaths are counted, until we are regarded as victims of violence in the same way others are regarded. That includes equal coverage and treatment by advocates of non violence, access to justice and access to services and supports.

In 1955, Rosa Parks created change for the black community by protesting exclusion and segregation on city buses. She refused to give up her seat to a white person when told to move to the designated 'coloured section'.

'People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.' - Rosa Parks

We people with disability are not at the back of the bus. We are not even on the fucking bus.

The argument for addressing the pay gap is almost irrelevant for the thousands of disabled women and men who cannot get into employment because of employer attitudes. We do not fit into 'mainstream places' - we are more likely to be incarcerated than admitted to a hospital, and Australia ranks 29 of 29 OECD countries for poverty risk of people with a disability. 90% of women with intellectual disability report being sexually abused in their lifetime, and instead of this being a national emergency, we are excluded and segregated from supports, services, policy documents and frameworks and the wider conversation.

Tomorrow is White Ribbon Day, but it is also the day that we will hold the White Flower Memorial. We will join together in the reading of the names of those dead women, men and children with disability to express our solidarity for those lost to violence, anger at the perpetrators and determination to fight together against oppression, violence and the social conditions and power imbalances that have caused our deaths.

We also call upon decision makers to listen to the stories told to the Senate and the report about violence against people with disability which will be tabled tomorrow in Parliament.

We call upon all people who care about nonviolence and justice to bring about changes that will relegate acts of violence against people with disability to the past.

We call upon every person in Australia, including our disabled brothers and sisters, to speak up, tell our stories, and let the world know that violence against people with disability is unacceptable.

Let us start counting the uncounted and listen to their stories. And let us build a ramp to make that bus accessible, so that we can ride with other women, men and children, be granted equal rights and assert our place in the world.

Image descriptions: A black woman sits on a bus, her face turned slightly away. She is sitting at the front of the bus. Behind her sits a white man. Image 2: Two protesters sit in their wheelchairs in front of a bus holding protest signs.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Apartheid of Mainstream Feminism (or when is a woman not a woman?)

When is a woman not a woman? When she’s disabled, of course.

It’s been a sad week for women with disability who are battling for inclusion in feminist circles. But it’s nothing new.

In 2013, Stella Young wrote an article about ‘The Politics of Exclusion’, in which she recounted a story of her contact with Destroy the Joint, a feminist group who aims to make sure women are included in public participation.

Destroy the Joint had set up a website where people could take a pledge. It read, in part:

I want an Australia where girls and women, where men and boys, can take part in our society without enduring discrimination, sexism and violence.

I want an Australia where we respect each other; an Australia where no person experiences hate because of their gender, race, religion or sexuality.

And I will challenge anyone who uses sex, race, religion or sexual orientation to incite hatred or to demean or vilify any of us. I will not stand by and let others do so without speaking up.’

Stella thought that the omission of disability as a reason many people experience hate and exclusion is striking, so she raised it with the creators of the pledge. Disappointingly, they said, 'we can't include everything'.

It seems nothing has changed. Despite the fact that people with disability make up twenty percent of the population, and more than half of us are disabled women, it seems that we don’t rate a mention in the exclusionary world of mainstream feminism.

Next week, I will be at the White Flower Memorial with other board members of People with Disability Australia, where we will remember women, men and children who have died as a result of violence, neglect or abuse. There are hundreds of current stories about the abuse of disabled women – literally hundreds. Despite the fact that Destroy the Joint refused to include some women with disability who had died at the hands of others in their ‘Counting Dead Women’ project, I thought I’d ask them to share the White Flower Memorial event on their page. After all, we are also counting dead women. I received this (inboxed) response.

'Destroy the Joint
Hi Samantha, thanks so much for your message. This is obviously a very important issue to bring attention to. Can I suggest posting it to disability activism pages? That may be the best way to raise awareness. Unfortunately we won't be able to post this to our page as we have to stick to our remit closely, but we all wish you the best for raising awareness of this important cause. D49.’

I was confused. Aren’t dead disabled women – well, just women? When we’re murdered, we’re just as dead. I wrote back,

‘We're not trying to raise awareness. We are holding a memorial service for dead disabled women.’

I thought I would reword the message to focus more on the gendered nature of violence against women. Then I went to post it, and it would not post. Then Facebook sent me this message. Destroy the Joint had reported the above message as 'abusive'.

‘Your message couldn't be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.
If you think you're seeing this by mistake, please let us know.'

I was blocked from further messaging.

Not just othering. Not just ignoring. Actual lateral violence by women against women, because somehow disability renders us genderless.

Counting dead women, unless you're disabled.

So much for the fucking sisterhood.

I was stunned. I went over to look at their page and find out what kind of information DtJ considered more important than the counting of dead disabled women. They’d just posted a lighthearted ‘Buzzfeed’ post, where women were asked to contribute their experience of #beingawoman.

The Tweets included lighthearted and serious statements from women, including the following –

Rachel Wenitsky @RachelWenitsky
We should probably stop applauding men for marrying accomplished women as if they adopted a blind one-legged rescue dog
Siobhan Thompson @vornietom
BRB, teaching a flock of parrots to say "what if that character was a woman?" And then releasing them in Hollywood
Lily Karlin ✔ @lilykarlin
Ladies, never show panty lines!!!!!! It breaks the illusion that your pants are actually your skin!!!!!

The comments were so far removed from some of our experiences that I decided to post some #beingawoman posts from a disability perspective, some personal, some about dead disabled women.

'My doctor told me to get a hysterectomy or change my tampon in my office because there was no accessible toilet nearby at my workplace #beingawoman'

'Peta Doig was raped thousands of times in her lifetime in a WA institution before dying screaming - the WA Government refused to segregate her from aggressive male clients #beingawoman'

'In 2011, it was reported that a major mental health service in Victoria had been covering up sexual assaults of its patients that that a 20 year old girl allegedly was sexually assaulted by a male nurse. She was told by staff not to tell anyone so it didn't become 'office gossip'. #beingawoman'

'Young women with intellectual disability are routinely sterilised without their consent because of the 'chance of rape' or because 'she may become distressed by the sight of blood'. This contravenes the Torture Convention #beingawoman'

Other women with disability joined in, including an Aboriginal woman with a disability.

'when i lodged a complaint against a taxi company for racism and all the drivers assumed i had been sexually assaulted because that happens to lots of disabled women. taxi rape #beingawoman’

'when people deny my sexuality because they think disabled people having sex is disgusting #beingawoman’

'When people deny my womanhood and treat me like a child #beingawoman’

In social media circles, we would call this ‘engagement’

But instead, we received this comment.

Destroy the Joint Destroyers, please note that as always, repetitive, circular and off topic comments will be hidden in line with our commenting guidelines. Repeat offenders will be banned. D25

We were banned and our comments were deleted.

Another disabled woman, Carole Robinson, a UK activist, made this comment,

'Hmmm...what would the reaction if the buzzfeed post had said '32 hilarious comments that only disabled women would understand'. Personally, I don't think that would get a mention here.'

Her comment was promptly deleted. She was banned.

Destroy the Joint felt the need to justify banning disabled women and silencing their voices.

'Regretfully, we did have to ban a couple of people who were repeatedly spamming this post and page with a large number of obvious half truths and distortions,’ they said.

‘Unfortunately, this meant their one main ontopic visitor post which was already seen by the page's large readership was automatically deleted too. But when we give a warning to stop spamming repetitive comments, it's a good idea to take notice. Sorry if any other Destroyers saw any of the other stuff. Feel free to carry on in the original spirit of the post! D25'

There we were. Other disabled women who posted something, anything, about disability and being excluded from discussions about feminism were promptly banned from commenting. Their comments were deleted.

Disabled abuse survivors also began posting on the wall in protest.

‘Three times I left and three times I was forced to return....forced by the agencies who were supposed to help me. Told the abuse was my fault and I should be grateful for the sacrifices my carer and his son gave up for me. And when I tried to complain about one of the dv agencies I ended up losing all supports and funding as the agency was affiliated with the ngo disability service provider I was under. Leaving me even worse off. And left much more traumatised as a result than I already was by the abuse at home.’

Dozens of messages from disabled women have been directed at Destroy The Joint – who have left a single ‘visitor’ post, neatly in the corner in the back room, mostly untouched. We’re allowed to have our space there, you see. Not over there at the desirable 'disability activist' space, but in the equivalent of a special school or a small congregate setting, where disabled women can remain unseen and unheard, excluded from the main conversation. No inclusion, but a respectful heartbeat of silence to allow ‘those people’ their space before going back to business as usual. Despite the murders, despite the abuse. Despite the fact that 90% of women with intellectual disability report being sexually abused in their lifetime.

We can count dead women, but not dead disabled women.

When we are murdered, it is not violence, because it may not be the type of violence you know and understand.

We are abused and murdered in places that you do not know about, in circumstances that you're not familiar with.

But there is this.

We are still women, and we are just as raped, just as dead.

Next week, at the White Flower Memorial in Sydney, we march. We will call the names for dead women and others with disability who have died as a result of violence, neglect and abuse, especially those in institutional settings. We will place white flowers in memory of those who have had their lives taken, whilst elsewhere, the Senate Inquiry into Violence, Neglect and Abuse against People with Disability is tabled.

We call upon all women – not just disabled women – to join us in expressing solidarity for the thousands of women with disability who are abused every day. We call upon you to express anger towards the perpetrators and at the social conditions that disempower us, including exclusion, segregation and apartheid. We call upon you to fight with all your sisters against oppression and violence.

We are disabled women. But we are still women.

Image description: A sign reads 'The divisional council of the Cape - White Area. By order Secretary. Die Afdelingraad van die kaap. Blanke Giebied'.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Boy and the Bed

This week, police interviewed a mother of a 16 year old Autistic boy who was found chained to a bed. She was later released without charge, and her son was returned home.

And then it started. The media, the cameras and the comments on social media, many from members of the public who argued, ferociously, that although child abuse was 'never all right', the community should 'not judge'. Until you are this mother, a struggling Somalian migrant with five children, you cannot 'walk in her shoes'. You do not know what Autistic children are like, many of them declared - they can be violent, dangerous, and at least the boy would be safe chained to the bed.


In 2008, 16 year old Callista Springer died in a house fire after being chained to a bed in her home. She had tried to escape from the upstairs room, but the chains held her. Her parents were imprisoned, not for murder but for torture and child abuse - 18-50 years.

This was Callista.

But over in Australia, we are not having the same conversation. It appears that torture is not torture, abuse is not abuse, when it is perceived by the general public that there are 'extenuating circumstances'. Those circumstances, of course, being the fact that the child who was chained to the bed has a disability.

From Nicole Rogerson, the CEO of a not for profit parent organisation, Autism Awareness Australia - 'I'm not going to pretend like we don't undertand how these things occur'. Rogerson argues that compassion should be shown to the mother and that the 'situation is complex'.

Groups like Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia and New Zealand are horrified at the response. They say that abuse is 'never okay, never excusable'.

'It is a violation of the child’s rights. We needn’t live in a society where these abuses seem to be common place,' their press release says.

'The stigma surrounding autism has a profound impact on the way Autistic people are treated. This stigma leads to shame, shunning, abuse and even death. We along with all the organisations working toward upholding the rights of disabled people condemn this act and the society that allows these acts to continue to occur.'

In online groups, the discussion from the community is wildly divided. She was keeping him safe, many commentators said. You can't judge, because you're 'not in her shoes'. And then there were the speculations about his behaviour and the probability of violence and absconding and eventually the agreement that really, the mother had no choice other than to chain her child to the bed.

In other communities, we call this victim blaming.

We watch it happen when rape victim's sexual histories are dissected, when someone's socio-economic status is examined, when people are determined that poor lifestyle choices must somehow have contributed to the person's abuse. And although this child is Autistic and is behaving in ways that are natural for him to behave in, there's a persistent, othering narrative that the cause of the abuse is to be found within the child himself - despite the fact that there are thousands of Autistic children who are not routinely chained to furniture around Australia.

After a day of wading through this mire, my son asked me a simple question. 'Why did his mother chain him to the furniture?' he asked. Immured in discussions about lack of support and behavioural challenges, the automatic response trembled upon my lips. 'Because he was Autistic, and ran down the street naked,' I had been about to say. I caught myself, horrifed. My response was the ableist equivalent of those who said that rape and murder victim Jill Meagher had asked for it. Walking home from a pub at night, walking in a dark alley, wearing a short skirt, running down the street naked. It's all the same. There are no victims if there are no abusers.

Nicole Rogerson may not be entirely wrong. There is a dearth of supports and services in this country, and that is not entirely a separate discussion. But the decision to place the immediate focus on supporting the perpetrator rather than the victim is ableist, offensive and incredibly damaging. People with disability are entitled to the same human rights as others. And condemnation of abuse should not ever carry the disclaimer 'but'.

Image description: A young man is carried out of a house on a stretcher. His face is pixellated. Image two: Callista Springer