Saturday, June 21, 2014



Hear this.

Assault is assault.

I was going north up Yonge Street, I saw a man with an intellectual disability coming south. He was with a staff or some other kind of care provider. As he passed me he reached out and slapped me twice, hard, in fact very hard, on my stomach. He made a comment that wasn't understandable and when he swung back to hit my stomach again I told him firmly 'don't do that again.' I spoke firmly and it was clear I meant what I said.

The staff, finally wakes up, and says to me, 'He doesn't mean anything by it.'

I looked at the staff and said, 'He struck me. Twice. It means something to me.'

I sat there for a second trying to decide what to do next. I wanted to call the police but I was also supposed to be meeting Joe in a couple of minutes. I said to the man who'd struck me. 'I'm not going to call the police this time, but what you did is against the law. You can't hit people like that.'

The staff began, in front of me, to tell him, 'Everything is all right.'

I said to the staff, 'Everything is not alright. This behaviour is criminal. If he doesn't learn that he can't hit random strangers, he's going to get in very big trouble. Why aren't you providing him the support her needs.'

The staff said, 'Most people don't mind.'

Shit, thought I, he's done this before, and often. 'Most people DO mind, they are just letting him get away with it, like I'm about to do. You need to make sure that support and training are done properly.'

To the man who hit me: Stop hitting people! People don't like it! I DON'T LIKE IT!!!'

Then he said a word, slowly, that I understood, 'Sorry.'

People with intellectual disabilities have a right to learn how to behave in the community. Their disability doesn't give them a 'pass' for aggressive or assaultive behaviours. Trouble is, most staff think the behaviour is simply 'inappropriate' rather than what it is ... 'criminal.'

It's the next morning and I still have red marks from where I was struck by this guy. Shit.


Anonymous said...

This is a terrible example of prejudice - and its perpetration contributes to the marginalization of people with developmental disabilities. "Of course you can't integrate someone with developmental disabilities into a community - "they" are so unpredictable and you never know who's going to be hurt by them . . ."
You were right to extract an apology . . . unfortunately, his "support" staff will not reinforce the negative impact of his behaviour on others . . . and he is very likely to re-offend!
What a tragic waste!

Liz said...

I'm so pleased you have written this post I will share this frequently. My daughter has regularly been assaulted by other young people with learning disabilities and I say exactly this to staff and parents. He or she can't help it is an appalling explanation. Abuse is abuse, and allowing it make people vulnerable to spending life in the hell of a secure unit.

Acceptance of this behaviour has isolated my daughter from her peers because she won't go where she is a
Likely to be assaulted and I wholeheartedly support that. People have told her 'just ignore it.' I have given them your booklet and walked away.

Belinda said...

Yes, sadly, sometimes "we," as in we paid to support as direct support professionals, need to do a better job of teaching people how to belong to communities. You gave a swift and effective lesson that was received by one half at least of the duo you met.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, it was assault and the Support Worker should have done more then just shrug it off and say, "He didn't mean anything by it!"
In my opinion, both could have been charged. The person who struck you and the staff person who stood by and did nothing. Did the staff person even ask if you were okay? Shame on the "abuser" for doing it the first time. Shame on both the staff person and the abuser for it happening the second, third, fourth,.... time!

"Most people don't mind?" Would the staff person mind... if he was innocently waiting in a line up and someone... a complete stranger, came up and slapped him on the stomach or slapped his behind, or punched him in the face? This is no different. The staff person should face consequences for professional misconduct for not addressing this behavior. In his role of a support provider he is a teacher, a mentor, a facilitator, a role model; for appropriate behaviour. He failed on all accounts.

As direct support providers it is important that we hold ourselves accountable for our behaviour while also, holding the individuals we support accountable.

Community inclusion will continue to be a HUGE obstacle for individuals living with disabilities if we go about our day to day with the "He/she, doesn't know any better- they have a disability" - the eternal child/ God love them mentality.

As a professional in the field of Human Services as well as a parent of a child with a disability, I find the message that this support worker is sending very disturbing- it undermines the hard work and passion I put into supporting the individuals I work with daily and it also negatively affects how society perceives individuals with Intellectual/ Developmental Disabilities.

I hope you are feeling better Dave. I completely agree, ASSAULT!

Thank you for sharing this painful experience. I do hope that the support worker and the abuser learned something from this exchange and that your Blog followers take note.


Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

That staff was incompetent. I hope that your response was a wake up call for them. It is appalling that this man is allowed to assault people and it is excused by his disability. He obviously knows better. You did him a favour by demanding better from him. I hope your injuries heal quickly.

On a totally other topic: I also hope you and Joe enjoy the Pride celebrations to the max!


Kristine said...

As always, I'm glad you spoke up. Assault is assault. And low (no) expectations are a form of bigotry. Letting him get away with everything is sending the message that you don't believe in his ability to learn, and you don't care what happens to him. Because sooner or later, there will be major consequences. And even now, I'm sure he's already suffering consequences of his actions, in the form of people avoiding social contact with him. It wouldn't surprise me if hitting is this man's method for connecting with other people, and until somebody corrects and teaches him better, it's going to keep not working! And, you know, the criminal consequences thing...

Rhonda said...

So, what to do with folks with ID/DD who do not understand "assault" - how do we teach people who have incredible difficulty with observing the physical integrity of others?

This young man was able to process your words and deliver an acceptable apology to you. How do you propose that society deals with individuals who cannot?

John R. said...

Such a disturbing scenario all around. Hope you are feeling better. You got it on. Disability, no disability, black, white, male, female.....assault is assault. No free passes. That staff member was and is clearly unethical and incompetent . THis is a shitty story and I hope that those of us who follow your blog and who are trainers can use this as an example of promoting justice, fairness and equity with the people we support. The person who hit you committed a crime. We have a huge obligation to teach people with intellectual disabilities these aspects of citizenship and clearly this staff member is clueless. Sorry for this event in your life. THank you for sharing it so we can use it, with your permission of course.

clairesmum said...

hope your body is feeling better..the mind and spirit will take longer to mend, perhaps.
i feel angry that this happened to you, and that this staff person is neglectful (at the very least) in the obligation to keep the client safe in a public place (someday someone may just swing right back!), and of the greater injury of having no expectations that the client can learn and use appropriate behavior in social settings!
With a dementing illness, then you have someone who may lose their social inhibitions, and may not be able to inhibit behavior that harms self or other - but care providers are responsible for providing supervision, distraction, diversion, and other techniques to PREVENT the person from becoming frustrated and hitting out. Even someone who can no longer learn, and who cannot express any coherent statements gives signals in advance - it is STAFF responsbility to prevent hitting.
NO HITTING, EVER, IN ANY SETTING - other than the boxing ring!

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but I imagine that even if you called the police and insisted on pressing charges (for the good of those involved) that you would not have been taken seriously by the police. Further, if you managed to get something to stick, at every corner, you would have been discouraged from moving forward. If still insistent you would have been made out as the "bad guy", the intolerant one, the misunderstanding one. Even with all your education and work experience behind you, prejudice against you would probably develop. Meanwhile, the many layers of indifference and "he doesn't mean anything by it" would build up. He, the hitter, would end up being the victim and you the abuser. Such is the way of the uneducated world. There are acceptable and moral behaviours that society has, and if anyone wishes to enjoy being in society, they must be held accountable. Glad you spoke up, lets hope it has some positive effect.

Ettina said...

What about when they really don't understand or aren't in control of the behavior?

This guy was able to say sorry, indicating he understood he'd done wrong. But I've worked with aggressive kids who gave no such signs of understanding. If you'd reacted that way to them, they'd just have been confused or gotten upset, and wouldn't have learnt anything.

Ems said...

Surely if someone is incapable of understanding a concept like 'don't hit people' then the person who is supervising them should be held responsible for their actions.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the person with him was a relative of his, i.e. not "staff" at all but someone with no training in managing behaviour? Obviously unlikely if in uniform, but it's often hard to tell.
Still absolutely no excuse for allowing repeated assaults & the man needs to learn that some things are simply not acceptable in any public space (presumably he has learned that it's not OK to remove all your clothes at random?), preferably before he meets someone who punches him in response.