Monday, March 10, 2008


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.


Anonymous said...

Wow, wow, wow! I'm inspired, uplifted, energized. I could feel your words, hear you with pride shouting them from a mountain top. I am so proud. Thank-you. MDN

Susan said...

Awesome post, Dave. Another print-it-off-and-put-it-in-everyone's-box post.

My hat is off to Vita. Way off. Right out of the stadium and into outer space. Congratulations.

Your outlook has really made me rethink some goals for my own sphere of influence.

Anonymous said...

I thought the card was funny, still do. Cats don't think in terms of disability and discrimination. They think in terms of survival and food. I think violence is much, much different than survival. Kudos to you for all your hard work, but I do think it's okay to laugh at the card. It's not about disability.

Anonymous said...

Since Dave mentioned the up-coming conference featuring the Liverpool's Witness Support Program which will be held in Toronto on June 20th; if you are interested in attending or learning more please contact Rose at Vita via email or phone at: 416 749 6234 ext 211 or

Anonymous said...

actually the cat better beware we had a limping bunny that was a vicious beastie and used to attack cats, dogs...and me!

But the point was interesting - you should keep the card Dave and incorporate it into your abuse training about how we even accept the subtle messages of disability and crime.

FridaWrites said...

My husband won't believe me that people with disabilities are more prone to crime, and it's making me angry. I told him it's common sense, but he wants some kind of statistical evidence (though statistics lie since a lot of crimes against PWDs don't get classified as such). He also doesn't understand that people who stick out in some way are more likely to be victimized, thinking that if he were some kind of gang member or hoodlum teenager, he thinks he'd be laughed at for picking on someone who can't defend themselves well versus beating up someone strong. While I think it's good that he can't identify with the mindset of people who would harm the disabled, it occurs to me that others could think that we're possibly even less prone to crime. It's making me angry. It really is.

Veralidaine said...

I never would have thought of the card like that. Guess I have farther to go being hate-conscious than I thought.

In the same token, however, I did once rescue a feral bunny with a broken leg, and even with the limp, she chased many a cat.

theknapper said...

Like every "ism", we each carry stuff with us because our society is full of messages about women, men, races, religions, abilities, gender etc. We're not going to be pure but we can do what you do & take a breath & realize there's another message that we don't like and then talk about it.

rickismom said...

Sorry, Dave , but I agree with Julie. This was about survival, and this was about the way that nature works. In nature, the fitest survive.
When dealing with PEOPLE (and being people), WE are expected to act in ways above and beyond ensuring our survival.
Cats are not expected to be considerate of their food source.They are cats. We are people.

FridaWrites said...

As I read Darwin, the "fittest" refers to the most adapted rather than the strongest. Sometimes the fittest for the environment is physically weaker but can better survive in the environment and pass on its physical characteristics. Such as a wiley attitude and a limp. :)

I can see how an animal might have wishful thinking that another animal would move more slowly.

FridaWrites said...

Nice template on your blog, by the way, Ricki's mom. :) (Mine's the same, minus the cool photo at the top.)

Anonymous said...

I didn't think of the bunny being disabled- I ( not sure if stupidly or not but anyways :) ) sorta assumed the bunny was chocolate and would be limping because the girl had eaten its leg already. I see easter and just think chocolate I think.

I tend to over think disability issues sometimes because I have a son who was born with DS, but I didnt see that card in the same way-sorry- but I do still agreee with you that people do get off lighter etc when abusing PWD.

Thanks again for a great post.

From Down Under.

Heike Fabig said...

Two things.

Yes, the card is funny. And yes, the card says a lot about PWDs. But it's a bit like with any joke - it's ok for a Jewish person to tell a Jewish joke, but not necessarily for someone else (especially me, being of German descent). Same as using certain words to describe people belonging to a minority. And then, one day, when there is no more discrimination towards anyone, we can all laugh. Most humor is cruel, really. That's why we laugh - otherwise we would have to cry...

One of my biggest fears is violence towards my kids, especially my two disabled ones. They are cute and innocent, and may not have the physical ability to run away... So i teach them to be assertive - while at the same time, trying not to teach them to become distrustful and living in fear of others. I have been abused (as most, not by a stranger but a family member). While the abuse wasn't fun, it's the silence that is the worst.

Dave, you are doing an important job. Teach people to say NO and speak out if something has happened. NO MORE SILENCE.

Go Dave and Go Vita. Any chance you'd relocate to Australia? ;-)

Anonymous said...


For your husband, try this:

And make sure to follow all the links from this post, too. But particularly, download the UNICEF report, which basically explains how and why disabled children are at much higher risk of being targeted for abuse and violence. One of the things it says in the report is that one reason they are targeted is precisely because abusers know they can get away with it more easily even if the abuse comes to light.

Also try this:

Find their report which says that people with disabilities are at higher risk for sexual assault. This is particularly a problem in countries where men share a belief that having sex with a virgin will "cleanse" them of HIV/AIDS. They target women with disabilities on the assumption that they aren't sexually active. (They also target children generally for the same reason.)

If anecdotal evidence will also help, then try this:

At the university I graduated from, there were two murders on campus some years ago, both committed by a freshman student on two other freshman students living in the same dormitory. (All the freshmen were moved out of the first dorm after the first murder into other dorms on campus because the whole dorm building was designated a "crime scene" for the purposes of police investigation. But many were still grouped together with other freshmen in their new dormitories.)

The first student targeted happened to have cerebral palsy. And it appears from subsequent news reports that the murder confessed he had chosen him as his first victim based on the assumption that he would be "easier" to attack because of his cerebral palsy.

Ultimately, he did both murders in order to steal money. But he did consciously choose his first victim on the basis of his disability.

All this was at Gallaudet University, during the 2000-2001 school year (first murder in Sept/Oct, second murder in about February). The murder and both victims were deaf, though only the first one had cerebral palsy.

I know how frustrating it can be to see such distressing patterns every day that make you so angry--and then turn around and find that your own loved ones not only fail to see the same patterns right in front of them but can't seem to process it when you try to explain it to them. I can remember some years ago trying to make my parents understand how systematic discrimination is toward gay/lesbian/bisexual people (they were assuming that if a certain right was violated that GLBT people could sue for their rights and wouldn't believe me when I tried to explain that, for GLBT people, certain very fundamental rights simply aren't protected by law. (I forget now the nuances of what we discussed, but I think it was related to marriage laws or in that constellation of legal rights.)

Some years after that, similar issues arose in conversation again and this time they insisted they already understood that, yes, the law was discriminatory toward GLBT people. But they had completely forgotten the earlier conversation. I guess they must have absorbed enough information from the media in the intervening years to finally get the lesson but somehow failed to make the connection to what I had already tried to tell them.

Ettina said...

I'm another person who thinks a predator is totally different from a perpetrator of violence. It reminds me a bit of when you said, in First Contact: Charting Inner Space, to try a variety of different foods to increase your tolerance for diversity. As an autistic person with sensory sensitivities, I knew you were erasing me with that statement. It hurts when people accuse me of being 'prejudiced' against foods I can't stand to eat. (Reminds me of one article in Intelligence report that analogized one white supremacist's dislike of mixing foods of different types - a trait I also have - with his attitude towards different races.) It seems you tend to draw parallels between things that aren't really the same.

Jacqui said...

I'm not sure how but nature seems to be able to sense those who are more vulnerable. I have seen birds pick food out of Moo's hand when they were too scared to approach the rest of us. Even our pets are more protective of Moo. I don't know why or how.

But I do know that the card isn't funny.

Another great post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You are all aware that sex offenders are called 'predators' because that's what they are. I don't think that Dave was wanting a discussion of Dawinism. I'm amazed reading people who have glossed over the horrible facts about abuse to talk about cats. I think, and I don't know for sure, that Dave's point is that using the card to make funny a fact that is tragic in real world human situtations. Never have I seen the issue of abuse trivialized in the way many responding here have managed to do.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi, Heike, Odd you should mention relocating to Austrailia. Just before beginning work at Vita I was talking to someone about coming to Austrailia for a two week lecture tour. We suggested a delay in that as I was just starting a new position. Now, two years later, I'm ready and eager to go to Austraila to do trainings and consultations. We tried getting ahold of the contact we had but were unsuccessful, perhaps she's moved on. But if you know an agency that would like to work with me on a lecture tour of Austrailia let me know.

FridaWrites said...

Anonymous, I for one am not trivializing abuse and I don't think others here are either. I'll have to come back to read more carefully later, but you're right that the card was the jumping off point to talk about abuse. I hope I didn't sound grouchy in my comments either--I worried about that later, since I'm not grouchy.

Andrea S, thanks so much for the websites/links, which have great statistics! I was hoping someone would have soemthing that concrete.
If he's unconvinced, it makes me think others might be unconvinced about the extent of it. I have mentioned how people treat me differently when I'm out by myself than when we're together, and I know he gets that.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Dave, violence between humans is horrible. I also know that those with disabilities and differences are more often victims. But I also owned an old farm cat that used to catch rabbits. I see the card as funny, and believe that we can see a cat as a cat, rather than a person. But thank you again for a post that causes me to think deeper.

Shan said...

Well, who knew a little post about a cat and a rabbit could polarise people like this? Interesting.

If the card had said "I hope he has a broken leg" would your reaction have been different?

As others, I'm seeing it as a cat being a cat and wanting to eat a rabbit. I'm betting the anthropomorphosis of the cat is probably the clincher for people here: giving it speech implies the presence of a human moral code, maybe. Again, I suspect if he had said "broken leg" rather than "limp" you might have laughed without rethinking.

Also, the whole image of the tral-la-la singing, gaily skipping, fatuously smiling Easter Bunny with his ridiculous basket being stalked, pounced on, and scarfed by a cat appeals to me. Limp or no limp.

Do you still love me?
; )

Anonymous said...

What's really scary is that in the past 20 years ontario associations have spent countless hours and $$$ doing committee work, staff consultations, seminars, conferences,and surveys to change the name of associations 2/3 times,the logo 2/3 times and the name of support plans 2/3 times...if that energy and $$$ was spent on eradicating abuse...???????

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks.

I'm reading my way through your online oeuvre, and this one stands out as a keeper.

What kills are the assumptions we don't even know we are making, and those are the hardest to see. I think 95% of ethics is identifying ethically challenging contexts.

Anonymous said...

I dislike cards like that in general because they're cynical.

The first thing that came to my mind was the old cartoon strip, I believe by Phil Foglio, in which an adorable bunny wanders through a forest gathering flowers, makes a daisychain, and hangs herself.

People laughed themselves sick over that one, because it subverted an established paradigm, gave you something unexpected (something like Shan is describing). But it was also part of a trend I've seen developing in popular culture over the last thirty years and I'm sick of it.

Someone earlier was talking about 4chan mentality. This is the same type of thing. It comes from the "mean world" attitude.

They think things like: Sincerity is not cool, neither is courtesy or kindness toward others -- nobody really behaves like that, and anyone who does is a loser.

So (this is how they would think), anyone who has an unfortunate thing happen to them probably deserves it, and it's "funny" when disabled people are attacked. Nuts!

I don't think we should all live in a G-rated cartoon world, but too much cynicism is toxic.


Anonymous said...

What if the bunny had only pulled a hammy and wasn't permanently "disabled?" By the way, I have MS and I thought the card was HILARIOUS. I purchased two of them.

Catherine said...

It took a bit of time for you to see the implications of the card. It might take others longer, if they see it at all. Where is the line with such remarks, jokes, comments and words?

Kezmoo said...

To all those who say that the card was reflecting nature - Cats don't talk!
By making the cat speak, it has been anthropormorphised, and therefore is thinking in the same way as a human (not all humans - just 'a'). I know it's a natural tendency among people to anthropormorphise animals, but you can't have it both ways.
Animals don't 'hope' for prey to be disabled, they just take advantage when they spot it, the very concept of 'hope' is an inherently human one.
As such, Dave was right in noticing that the anthropormised sentiment of the cat is, indeed, perpetuating discrimination against the disabled.