Updated: Apr 1, 2021
The degree to which a society safeguards an individual’s civil rights is an indicator of how those individuals are valued by society. The ultimate violation of a human being‘s civil rights is when society allows life to be taken with impunity.
Filicide, the murder of vulnerable individuals at the hands of their parents or care givers is rampant among the disabled population. According to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, disabled individuals are twice as likely to have violence perpetrated against them than non-disabled people. And when this violence results in death, oftentimes the media coverage and public discord surrounding these murders supports and often defends the murderers and gives little attention or recognition to the innocent, vulnerable victims whose lives were cut short by the very people whom they trusted most.
The unconscionable fact that a parent took the life of their own child gets glossed over and the media twists and spins the “optics” to portray the murderer with sympathy for having to deal with the “heavy burden” of caring for their disabled child. In the criminal justice system these murdering parents receive lighter sentences than murders of non-disabled people. The case of Conner Seth Snyder of Albany, Pennsylvania illustrates this: His mother, who murdered both Connor and his little (non-disabled) sister on September 26, 2019, was charged with first- and third-degree murder. Both children were murdered in the same manner, suffering the same horrific fate, yet the courts saw fit to charge two different degrees of murder (which translates it to different severities of sentence).
This is because there is a deep, ingrained, pervasive prejudice in our society that disabled life is less valued than non-disabled life. This prejudice is called “ableism.” And according to disability self-advocate Amethyst Schraber, “The very pillars of our society, our medical systems, our educational systems, our government and all of its departments have been built on a foundation of ablest ideals and practices.”
“This culture of ableism, this pervasive, chronic devaluation of disabled lives is oppressive and as long as it persists, disabled individuals are denied their civil rights in every facet of their daily lives from equal access to education, employment opportunities, medical care, organs transplants, and the right to equal protection under the law.”(Schraber)
There have been 719 reported disabled individuals murdered world-wide at the hands of their caregivers since 2016. Of these, 418 (over half) were committed in the United States alone. It is important to note that many murders go unreported, so actual numbers are probably greater. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has been curating these statistics since its inception in 2006, and they have recorded filicides from as far back as 1980. This record can be viewed at https://disability-memorial.org/index-by-year
March 1st is the International Disability Day of Mourning where the disability community gathers across the world to remember these victims of filicide. To find a vigil near you, visit autistic advocacy.org.
Michelle M. Baughman is a late-in-life diagnosed adult on the autism spectrum, an educator, a parent of a twice-exceptional child, and a trauma-informed AANE Certified AsperCoach who provides intensive, highly individualized coaching to individuals with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and related conditions. Michelle ascribes to the Neurodiversity paradigm and writes to help debunk the general misconceptions surrounding this condition to help autistics live their best lives and to change the negative cultural narrative about autism.
She may be contacted via email: [email protected], cell phone: (860) 207-4263, or her online presence: http://linkedin.com/in/michelle-m-baughman-28b5a92b