Considering Violence Prevention on International Day of Disabled Persons
By Kelly Babcock
If I asked you how to define violence, you might say that it needs one person to physically attack another. There is no denying that would be violence but I have two problems with that definition.
First, it focuses on the action by the perpetrator. Second, it focuses on physical altercation. Violence can take many more forms and it is often unseen. Remember that we are talking about behaviour that is not practiced by people seeking to be honourable. Violence is perpetrated by those who for whatever reason need two things: to feel a sense of superiority in some way and a victim they can control.
I would say that any action that inspires fear or pain is violence and that violence is always about power and control over another person. Victims of violence all have one thing in common, they are perceived to be vulnerable. As a result, there are a disproportionate number of victims among the community of persons with disabilities.
Our world is not designed for people with disabilities and that means that people with disabilities often rely on other individuals and services for support. This can increase their vulnerability whether they’re trying to access a building or complete the daily necessities of life. One of the easiest ways to find a victim whom one can control is to find a person that might be potentially reliant on others and to become someone they might rely on.
Proximity is not necessary for someone to perpetrate violence, though. The very act of threatening violence is enough for some, and it is still violence despite the lack of physical detriment or damage.
I’d love to not tell you this next part, because it tears at my heart to repeat it, but it is, sadly, the perfect example of everything I’ve discussed with you so far. A friend of mine, a young woman who used a wheelchair exclusively for mobility, once revealed to me that she had been receiving phone calls from someone she didn’t know. This person was asking questions about what they could do to become a volunteer to the disabled community.
The phone calls continued and slowly grew more personal, despite my friend not wanting that kind of attention and despite her attempts to steer the conversation back to less personal areas.
Eventually the questions got so personal that my friend was offended and asked bluntly what the caller wanted. The response was a description of sexual abuse that the caller was hoping to one day inflict on my friend. “Why are you doing this?” she asked.
The response was, “Because you can’t do anything to stop me.”
Did these two people ever meet? No. Was there any opportunity to inflict physical violence? No. Was there visible evidence of violence? Again, no.
But was there violence? Yes. The soul, and heart of my friend were torn and bruised beyond ever healing completely. I assure you she carried those scars the rest of her life.
I know it impacted her life and made her think differently about many opportunities she had. This beautiful person who should have been on the forefront of speaking out for her community chose carefully the occasions when she would appear in public, refused interviews that involved pictures or video, and even changed her name so that she could not be tracked by her emotional attacker. She had to put conscious thought into keeping herself safe. Many of us are privileged to not worry about the ways our physical or cognitive abilities increase our vulnerabilities. And everyone has a responsibility to remember that people with disabilities experience disproportionate amounts of violence. We need to create a world where that is no longer true.
Violence truly does lurk in dark places. But those dark places are anywhere where opportunity exists without much public scrutiny. People with disabilities often seek ways to avoid such scrutiny and that makes them potential targets. They often rely on others for supports to make their lives less challenging and that makes them vulnerable.
We would never knowingly allow anything like what I’ve described here to happen. But the key is in knowing. Violence thrives in ignorance. The more that we can recognize violence, the less opportunity there is for it to be part of our community.
And isn’t a community without violence worth pursuing?
Kelly Babcock is an Owen Sound based writer and musician.