By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
Last week, you learned about David M. Perry, a history professor who doubles as a nationally known disabilities rights journalist and activist. He has a 10-year-old son with Down syndrome.
Not long ago, the Ruderman Family Foundation commissioned Perry to research the 260 occurences from 2011-15 of people with disabilities who were murdered by their parents or caregivers. Perry was shocked at what he discovered.
In a telephone interview, he said, “First off, it should not be a surprise people with disabilities experience violence at a higher rate than other people. That's true across the board, whether that's domestic, sexual or state violence (i.e., policing or incarceration), violence from poverty, or, as in this case, violence coming from people who are supposed to take care of you.”
In America, Perry learned, a parent or caregiver murders a person with a disability under his or her care about once a week. Again, no surprise. What shocked him was the unprofessional way journalists went about covering these heinous crimes.
He said, “For one, any given local journalist is going to encounter one or two of these stories eventually, depending on their geographical location. The question is when they encounter these stories, do they have the tools to do a good job accordingly.”
Journalists usually slant these types of stories to make the murders appear as “mercy killings” rather than actual, real murders, Perry said. The media rarely question the murderer's oft-repeated claims of “hardship,” which Perry said repeated the skewed narrative that financial or physical hardship was an acceptable reason for a caregiver to murder and as a reason for the caregiver to avoid incarceration.
He said, “If we journalists spread the message that it's understandable and sympathetic when parents kill their disabled children, what kind of message does that send to other parents?”
Also, in the 66 U.S. murders reported on just in 2015, Perry didn't find one instance in which a newspaper reporter used a reaction quote from a person with a disability or a disability rights group to get their timely perspectives on the murder.
Of this, he said, “Every city and state in our country has formal disability rights organizations ready to talk on the record about these issues. These groups exist and will answer email and telephone questions. It seems so basic and such an achievable goal for a journalist or editor (to get these reaction quotes). This should be Journalism 101.”
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