I thought I wouldn’t write about this case . I’ve been following it and the developments have been a sad reminder that disabled people are, in 2015, still seen, talked about and treated as less than human.
Emily Brooks has been writing about it and her analysis is so comprehensive, I don’t have much to add. But the rhetoric used by people involved in the case is making my heart hurt.
If you don’t know about it, you can read the articles linked above and here . I will not talk about Anna Stubblefield, if she raped an adult disabled man, known as DMan, or if their sexual relationship was consensual.
Instead, I want to add my voice to Emily’s and talk about how the prosecutor is dehumanizing DMan to win his case.
Every time the prosecutor wants to make a point about DMan’s alleged incompetence, he not only points out the perceived deficits of the very visibly disabled man, he mocks DMan’s behaviors (which can be as simple as a need for sensory stimulation), and he dehumanizes DMan by ignoring his very real presence in this planet.
By doing this, the prosecutor sends a message that disabled people are either a burden on their families, or pitiful beings whose behaviors and way of being resemble that of animals, rather than the behaviors of human beings.
He sends a message that the more disabled one looks, the less sentient one is. The more supports one needs, the less one deserves to be treated with respect.
Unless one is Stephen Hawking, of course. Because the prosecutor also believes that if one cannot prove “intelligence”, one cannot learn, or understand anything –It is ironic that the court dismissed requests that DMan be granted access to a method of communication that could “prove” he can understand things (he has shown this before, through tests).
One more irony is that the prosecutor is trying to prove that DMan was disrespected, violated through a sexual assault, through rape, while at the same time disrespecting and violating DMan’s dignity in every other way.
To the prosecutor, DMan is human enough to expect respect when it comes to sexual relationships, but not quite human when it comes to the image of him given to the jurors.
The consequences of this prosecutor’s words about a disabled person can be dangerous. As we all know, history does repeat itself if we are not vigilant.
All around the world there is a movement to “get rid” of undesirable bodies and “deficient” minds. Unless we prove ourselves “productive and self-sufficient”, we are deemed too burdensome for society. We have to fight for basic services to merely survive, and we are blamed for “not giving back”.
In some countries it is legal to kill a newborn that doctors say will suffer and cause distress to the family – code words for “useless eaters”, the Nazi-era preferred term.
Recently, a politician suggested lethal injection for disabled people.
Courts are granting parents the right to euthanize disabled children who are not terminally ill.
Not to mention the many, many cases of parents murdering their disabled children, not being prosecuted, and in the rare cases that ends up with the murderers in jail, they get the celebrity treatment, air time to say how much of a burden the victims were, and that they are better off dead – Murderers becoming heroes.
How people talk about us matter. It matters in a life or death way. Words that reduce our existence to “takers”, “pitiful”, “incompetent”, “subhuman”, “needy” and non-sentient beings creates the perception that we don’t deserve to live, the perception that we are suffering, that we cannot learn or feel joy, that we are the cause of the greatest pain and suffering our families can endure.
That’s how eugenics keeps on growing.
First they pity us.
Then they dehumanize us.
Then they conclude that a dehumanized, pitiful life is not worth living.
The prosecutor could have made his case without disrespecting DMan.
Instead, his message was (warning: I will use the r-word):
How could a college professor, so intelligent and competent, have fallen in love with a disabled man, a retarded, someone with a defective brain, someone who cannot behave like a real human being, someone who still wears diapers and cannot understand real feelings?
The prosecutor could have reminded himself, and the jurors, that DMan is, in fact, a human being, that DMan’s value does not depend on how he does things (in a way that suits him), or on a misguided idea of what intelligence is.
He could have reminded himself that respect is a basic human right.
Update: Anna Stubblefield was found guilty of two aggravated felonies. My heart and soul still hurt for DMan. He was the alleged victim, and was victimized, dehumanized by the very people purporting to be defending his rights.