It's a sweet picture. One of the old fashioned kind. There is a little girl with sun kissed blond hair wearing a striped summer dress with a white collar. Beside her is a cat sitting close enough for its soft fur to touch the skin of her arm. Sunlight brightens the fur on the right side of the cat, if you could touch the cat, its fur would be soft and warm. They are both looking into the distance, we can only see their backs. Then there are two voice bubbles above them. She is saying, "I hope the Easter Bunny has a big basket of goodies!". The cat is saying, "I hope he has a limp."
I admit it. I laughed. I put the card in my wheelchair bag and continued shopping. About five minutes later, in a different section of the store, I stopped. I took the card out of my bag and looked at it again. I was filled with horror. I had laughed at this. Laughed at the idea of a predator seeking out someone vulnerable, someone with a disability. Knowing that this card would be bought by hundreds and they'd all laugh too. The hunting down and hurting of the disabled is kind of, well, funny.
Maybe I'm over thinking this.
People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime than anyone else.
People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violent crime than anyone else.
Crimes against people with disabilities are less often punished than crimes against anyone else.
People who commit crimes against people with disabilities are likely to get lighter sentences than if they committed them against anyone else.
People with intellectual disabilities are considered 'good victims' by predators because their testimony is more easily challenged and less likely to ever be heard in court.
People with intellectual disabilities are trained to be subserviant, compliant and silent.
People with disabilities are most likely to be victimized by those paid to be trustworthy.
So, no, I don't think the card is funny. I don't think that it's possible to 'over-think' violence against people with disabilities. In fact I think we've been 'under thinking' the issue for too long. I mean we've known for 20 years, when the first research came out, that abuse was a common life experience for those with disabilities. But what have we done? What's changed? If we are guilty of anything, it's apathy in the face of a catastrophy of statistics.
I sat in the store with the card in my hand, and knew. Knew that I had spent the last two years at Vita Community Living Services working on one of the most important issues that we have to face as a human service system, as a society. The reduction of the abuse and victimization of people with disabilities by care providers. For two years we have worked at radically changing the system. We've got the most stringent abuse reporting policies possible. We've put in place training for all people with disabilities, no matter what their level of disability, on bodies and boundaries. We've taught the word 'no'. We've made sure that people with disabilities have a collective voice. We're about to begin teaching disability pride - self esteem, and ways to communicate anger effectively.
We can't, and don't want to, eradicate disability. But we can certainly eradicate the teaching of subserviance. We can build skills in people with disabilities such that they will be heard. If by no one else, they will be heard by us as an agency. Every staff is now going through training on abuse reduction and abuse reporting. Every staff is going through training on respecting boundaries. Every staff knows that we are serious about being a safe place. We changed our mission statement to become the first agency in the world that states up front, in our mission statement itself, that we will be a safe place for people to live: Providing Safety, Practicing Respect, Promoting Community. We know what we want to be ... a safe haven. All the rest is gravy.
We know that there are cats out there looking for rabbits that limp. We are aware that disability brings out the best in some and the worst in others. We can't control that, what we can control, we will. We can ensure and promise the access to information. For people with disabilites. For care providing staff. For police. For everyone. We can ensure that silence will not rule, will not be part of our practice.
In a few months we will be bringing people from Liverpool's Witness Support Programme to do a presentation in Toronto about how to support people with disabilites going through the justice system. A groundbreaking and revolutionary approach that makes justice accessible to people with intellectual disabilities. Part of our plan is to talk directly to agency staff, the police and Crown. To make sure that everyone, everywhere, knows that there is no excuse for continuing the pattern of violence.
The card is bent in my hand now. My mind races through all that we have done, all that we are doing, and I wonder if it's enough.
Well, it may not be enough.
But it's one hell of a start.
Watch out cat, cause the bunny may limp. But it's got a trick or two itself. You just might be surprised.