In the quiet of a winter evening, sitting having tea on the couch, it comes back to me. That moment I was left, on a dark freezing cold morning, outside my office by a WheelTrans driver who was deaf to my pleas not to be left alone. Like all traumatic incidents, it hasn't left me and I don't have the power to just let it go. The memory visits me at inopportune times - but this time is a good one as it's quiet and I have time to think.
I realized, for the first time really the reasons why people with disabilities are reluctant to report abuse. Unless the research is wildly wrong, there is a lot more abuse than there is abuse reporting. I've wondered about this, academically, over the years. But now, having been the victim of an abusive act by a care provider. I understand much more deeply the motivations to keep silent, to just let it go. I grabbed a pen and quickly jotted down the list.
1) Terror and fear of reprisals. The very next morning after I had been left in the cold and I'd called in to complain, I was due for another ride on the same transit system. The computer called and told me two things, that I'd be picked up just after 8 and that I'd be picked up by the same company who's driver had let me off in the cold. As I was dressing on the bed I began to panic. My sock hung from my hand and I was frozen in fear. Joe came in and asked what was wrong. I told him that I was afraid that the driver who came today might be a friend of the other driver, that I had to get into a van alone with him and wouldn't know if I was safe until I got there. Do they all know each other these drivers? Are they all gunning for me because of my complaint against one of their own? Joe said things meant to assure me, they didn't.
2) Misplaced empathy. For the first several days after this happened I felt dreadful. I didn't want this guy to lose his job, I asked the WheelTrans Customer Care not to fire him. It's Christmastime for heaven's sake. He probably has a family. I felt incredible empathy for this guy and what he'd be going through because I called to complain. Only later I realized ... he. left. me. out. in. the. freezing. cold. and. felt. no. empathy. for. me. or. my. concern. that. I. might. die. I was feeling empathy for a man who felt no empathy for me. I probably worried more about him than he did about me sitting out there in the cold. The victim is NOT responsible for consequences that befall the victimizeer. That's a huge chunk of learning right there.
3) Shame and Self Blame. How could I have gotten myself into that situation? Many people I talked to said things like, 'I just would have refused to get out of the van' or 'I would always make sure I had a cell phone' or 'Why didn't you have a key for the office'. All these questions have rung in my mind like a bell tolling over the grave of my personal power and my personal effectiveness in the world. It wouldn't have happened to others because others are more capable of living my life than I am. It's easy to say 'I would have refused to get out' but when the driver isn't hearing you and pulls out your chair and is insisting you get out ... the role of obedient cripple is easy to fall into. I know about protest. I know about making noise. But that's Dave Hingsburger. I wasn't Dave Hingsburger, I was an anonymous passenger on a bus. I didn't have Dave's power. (I hope that makes sense to you because it certainly does to me ... now.) And as to the phone and the key, how could I plan for this to happen, until it did, it was unthinkable. Yes, I now have a key. Yes, I now have a plan. But these things come afterwards, not before.
4) People don't take abuse of people with disabilities all that seriously. The way I look at it, this guy coulda killed me. That morning was freezing cold. I was wearing sandels not shoes (I was going into the van and into the building, I didn't think I needed shoes). I wear a sweater not a coat. I wear gloves that are meant for wheelchair pushing not for warmth. Yet when I've told people, they make the right noises about what happened being horrible but I can tell from their tone that they think I'm being a bit 'over the top' about it. I don't mean to be critical of readers of this blog, who are by and large a wonderful lot, but even when I blogged about being left out in the cold on a dark winter morning. The comments devolved into a series of questions about the nature of my disability - like the topic of being disregarded by a care provider and dumped into a cold parking lot was barely interesting enough for a comment. If you check you will see that 6 comments were about the incident with the driver and 9 comments were about my weight, my disability and a discussion thereof ... I wanted to scream: What is it about the pain and fears of those with disabilities that make them seem less important than the pain and fears of other 'real' people? (Note: I like all comments and wouldn't comment on comments unless they relate to the point being made. So please don't be worried about being picked on for comments, I love them - as do all blog writers.)
So I understand things now I didn't before. I've been lecturing and teaching on this topic for along time.
But now I understand in new ways.
I'm pulling out my lecture note today, and making changes.