There is perhaps nothing more confronting than the news that a parent has killed a child. While it seems unfathomable that this occurs, somehow we generate sympathy for the murderer when the person they have killed is disabled. It’s just another example of the cognitive dissonance we attach when the victim or perpetrator is less than the poster child for domestic violence.
March 1st marks an International Day of Mourning in which disability activists from Australia and New Zealand are calling for justice for disabled people killed in family violence.
In a ground-breaking bout of cooperative action, NZ and Australian ‘Disability Clothesline’ groups have united with international groups to remember those killed in family settings. The groups use tee-shirts pegged to clotheslines as a visual statement to highlight violence, neglect and abuse against disabled victims and to signify the ‘hanging out of our dirty laundry’.
Deaths in disability are not new or recent and since they defy the narrative of gendered violence in both victims and perpetrators it seems this may be why we are so uncomfortable to talk about it. Societal issues that are outside the normal paradigms are confronting – this shouldn’t make them any less important.
The homicide deaths of disabled are often violent or involve torture and neglect. These snapshots are just some of the victims being remembered today. You can pay your respects and find the full list here at the vigil ‘event’ page where the names of the 33 Australian & New Zealander victims are listed.
“Tanilla Warrick-Deaves was thrown against a shower wall and left unconscious in a pram for two days after suffering months of sustained torture. Her stepfather was jailed for forty years and her mother was jailed for twelve years, for manslaughter.
‘John’, a 10 year old Newcastle boy who died when his parents failed to address his needs. His parents fed the child until he died as a result of morbid obesity, despite the warnings of medical professionals.
50 year old South Lakes woman, Roxanne Wilkinson, who died in 2015. Her 19 year old son, who is also disabled, is believed to be responsible for her murder.
Zahra Baker, who died in the US aged ten. Her stepmother was arrested and jailed for 18 years after pleading guilty to second degree murder. Zahra’s dismembered remains were found scattered in bushland. Zahra had had her left leg amputated at the age of five because of bone cancer.
Sienna was killed by her mother in a murder suicide in 2015. Sienna was 17 months old and vision impaired.
Ebony was a seven year old autistic girl who was starved to death in 2007 by her parents, who were jailed for her murder. Ebony weighed just nine kilos when she was found dead on a putrid mattress in Hawks Nest, NSW.
Sara-Jane Dore, who was 27 in 2008. She was a Special Olympics weightlifter, living in Invercargill. She was shot by her father, who then shot himself.
Baby C who died at 5 months old in 2004. Baby C was suffocated by her father in Nelson. He confessed on tape but was found not guilty of any charge.
‘These are the forgotten members of our community,’ says Samantha Connor, the Australian Disability Clothesline convenor. ‘Two weeks ago, a man was jailed for binding his 11 year old autistic stepson to a chair, dousing him with cold water and leaving him in a garden shed, where he died of hypothermia. Yet most Australians do not know his name or story – our killers rarely go to jail, even when we are stabbed, poisoned, starved or suffocated.’
Organisers of the New Zealand Disability Clothesline agree, saying the killing of disabled people in New Zealand is cast as “understandable” or “loving” and what is happening to disabled people becomes invisible. Sometimes reporting of their deaths seem to vanish from public record as happened to a young disabled man killed by his mother.
‘We need to get real and call all of these events terrible unacceptable killings, not something merciful, a blessing or an inevitable result of too much stress,’ says Wendi Wicks of the Disability Clothesline New Zealand. ‘Attitudes towards the value of disabled lives can and must change. There is work to do, and we should begin right now.’
The Trans-Tasman partnership is calling for immediate action on:
- Justice for disabled people and equal protection in the laws relating to abuse and violence
- Formal reporting of disability domestic violence deaths along with other domestic violence deaths
- Inclusion of disabled people in domestic and family violence services, programmes and campaigns.
- There is a petition for a Royal Commission into violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability. Ask them to #endtheviolence by clicking this link ly/etvagainstpwd
- An Australian Senate inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability living in institutional (including family) settings (released on November 25, 2016) calls for a national Royal Commission as one of its key recommendations
Web Links to Family Caused Deaths in Australia and New Zealand
Casey Albury Thompson http://www.theguardian.com/society/2000/aug/23/guardiansocietysupplement7
And as a sad follow up, this: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/452964/Woman-who-killed-autistic-daughter-jailed-for-church-fire
Jim Helm https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/nz.general/EshyJu2CAEE
Original document is Nelson Mail of 1.12.1998 pp1,3 Health worker speaks out on Helm Deaths. http://natlib.govt.nz/items?i[century]=1900&i[subject]=Helm%2C+Jim&text=Courtney%2C+Nancy
Sara-Jane Dore http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/271684/Father-daughter-shot-dead
Brittney Abbott http://tvnz.co.nz/content/1001059/2556418/article.html
Janet Moses http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4018457/Janet-Moses-died-from-accidental-drowning
Elsie Crutchley http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10520742
Florence Simpson http://tvnz.co.nz/content/31849/2591764/article.html
Timothy Bourke http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/4325757/David-Bourke-guilty-of-manslaughter-not-murder
Patricia Fergusson http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/29/south-african-prosecuted-mothers-death
Joy Martin http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/03/31/1080544562533.html?from=storyrhs
** Please note that this infant was a victim of hate crime – mother believed she had dwarfism
Tanilla Warrick-Deaves http://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/how-monster-was-able-kill-little-tanilla-warrick-d/2275877/ – two year old, tortured and beaten
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/margaret-and-raymond-sutton-sydney-couple-in-mercy-killing-of-disabled-son-found-dead-themselves/story-e6frg6nf-1226954505340 – 28 murder http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/nsw/NSWSC/2007/295.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=margaret%20raymond%20sutton%20matthew
Unnamed 50 year old woman
I L ** Please note that in NSW, the publication of the names of children who are involved in court proceedings is prohibited
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/man-charged-with-murder-of-family-was-very-close-to-brother-20120731-23d28.html and http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/nsw/NSWSC/2014/287.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=carlos%20lopez
S W – ,** Please note that in NSW, the publication of the names of children who are involved in court proceedings is prohibited
J P – ,** Please note that in NSW, the publication of the names of children who are involved in court proceedings is prohibited
Jason Dawes (non publication order does not apply – pre 2004)
LB – ,** Please note that in NSW, the publication of the names of children who are involved in court proceedings is prohibited
SW – ,** Please note that in NSW, the publication of the names of children who are involved in court proceedings is prohibited
Unnamed boy – ,** Please note that in NSW, the publication of the names of children who are involved in court proceedings is prohibited
Kate Therese Bugmy