by Torri Wright | April 11th, 2023
Whether we want to go back to historical records and show the atrocities that occurred to every mentally, physical, or cognitively disabled person in European hospitals during WWII or review records of mounting abuse, with cover-ups and inhumane treatments excused as “medically approved” within the thousands of hospitals nation-wide that only recently (within the last decade or so) have been shut down. The terms we have used to describe this group of people have been telling of how society treats folks with any level of “disability.”
There are still files identifying individuals as mentally retarded (who have autism, dyslexia, and other neuro-differences) in 2023.
The recent article covered and published by KATU2 on March 9, 2023, about Magdalena Cruz’s’ quest to find her father and mother’s rapist is evidence the abuse continued far beyond Hitler’s regime wanting to rid the earth of the “useless eaters” he had deemed as a burden to society. In fact, Magdalena’s desire to find some kind of justice and understanding of how she came into this earth as well as what happened to her mom unraveled what our great country may not be ready to embrace. The idea that we have paid for – as taxpayers and voting members of this country – and approved the systems that continue to make way for and cover up severe, frequent, and ongoing abuse within the I/DD (intellectual and developmental disability) community is maddening.
Magdalena was able to read progress notes (required, by federal law) from her mom’s file that assisted in her finding the true criminal. Who by the way, is still living his life completely free and as if what he did was just another part of his job. Yes, he was one of the staff and Magdalena discovered there never was a police report made when her mom was found to be pregnant. Her mom having an intellectual disability that prevented her from being able to give consent and her capacity to speak up for herself was extremely limited, leaving her to the care of the facility that ultimately raped, abused, and got her pregnant. The disgust felt in reading this article comes from hearing the story and knowing there are tens of thousands of individuals who have similar stories and many of those stories are unfolding as I write this post.
As someone who has worked in this field for more than 25 years I, personally, have witnessed several situations where not only the situation was covered up more than it ever exposed the predator to be held accountable, but instead the victim was often blamed or otherwise dismissed as not reporting accurately. This includes situations where administration knew things were going on and they looked the other way, encouraged the perpetrator to resign, transferred to other facilities/schools, or put them on paid administrative leave. Investigations, required reports, and other documentation where often not completed, sealed away, or destroyed entirely, depending on the situation.
Early on in my career I worked at a specialized school with teens who most often came from extremely traumatic backgrounds. Many of them were in foster care or had been at some point. The most common label they were given was either emotionally disturbed or learning disability. And as someone who has dedicated most of my career to understanding human behavior and how trauma impacts the way humans relate, connect, succeed, and behavior this career has been one interesting sector to both work in and be witness to the unacceptable nature in which most of these individuals are being treated and cared for. This all starts in our educational system.
First, we still separate – with labels, special teachers versus general teachers, pulling kids out for interventions/therapies, special classes, etc. – second, we fail to see the damage this structure sets our society up for as these children begin to grow into adults. Schools create a mini system that encourages an us versus them and teaches kids to either make fun of the “special” kids or feel sorry for them. Neither of those translate to compassion and integrating as one human existence, instead it places value on a hierarchy of labels, including how we perform and conform - starts in schools, does it not?
Magdalena and her mom’s story are the tiniest drop in a bucket the size of an ocean filled with gross negligence, abuse, and societal isolation. The stories are hard to hear and understand the how and why, but they are stories that need to be told and shared far and wide for everyone to fully understand the foundation of how these abuses continue to occur in plain sight, with little to no accountability.
Magdalena’s story struck a chord within me and prompted giving a voice to an ever-growing sense of frustration and hopelessness within this field, in trying to find ways to bring awareness and possible solutions. Perhaps it starts with sharing stories, listening to those who have experienced these abuses, and validating the life they have lived, knowing any level of justice is way beyond reach. We need to do better, as humans.