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“Disability & Murder: Victim Blaming at Its Worst” by Stella Young

The death of a disabled adult or child is a global problem. Too often, the media and ‘well-meaning’ allies express support and sympathy for the perpetrators rather than the actual victim. The Disability Visibility Project supports the efforts by disabled people pushing back at this ableist narrative.

As the project previously highlighted the case of Issy Stapleton, advocate/comedian/writer Stella Young wrote about a recent case in Australia. Her points are spot on. This is a piece first published in The Drum on September 16, 2014. Excerpts below:

Disability and Murder: Victim Blaming at Its Worst

By now you’ll have heard the story of Geoff Hunt, the 44-year-old grain farmer who shot and killed his wife and three children before committing suicide last week. The community of Lockhart, the Riverina town where the Hunt family lived, is understandably reeling from this crime. Imagining the victims in their final moments has been unavoidable for many. For those who knew the Hunt family, their grief must be immense.

Let me be clear. When I say “victims”, I am talking exclusively about Kim Hunt and her three children, not Geoff Hunt. He is the perpetrator of this crime, not a victim. And yet much of the media coverage that has unfolded has clearly tried to paint a different picture.

When we hear of a crime like this, we quite rightly recoil in horror. And yet, when we hear that a murdered wife is also a woman with a disability, we can find ourselves a little bit less horrified. As though her status as a disabled woman gives us a little more empathy towards the perpetrator of violence. It’s victim blaming at its very worst.

As Nina Funnell eloquently wrote last week:

If a man walked into a classroom, pulled out a gun and shot three children and a teacher, before turning the gun on himself, we’d call it a massacre, and we’d call him a vicious murderer.

Yet when a man walks into his own home and shoots his three children and his wife before turning the gun on himself, he’s remembered in the press as a loving family man who was under some strain.

Whichever way we dress it up, this is a story of domestic violence. Of a man who violently killed his wife and three children. He is not the victim of either this crime, or of the accident in which Kim Hunt was injured two years ago.

Many reports have neglected to mention that although recovery from an ABI can be slow, it’s not impossible, and Kim Hunt was reportedly recovering well. She returned to work in an education role at the local hospital in which she had previously worked as a nurse in April this year. And even if she hadn’t recovered, if she’d remained entirely dependent on support and care for the rest of her life, her murder still isn’t excusable.

Every week in Australia a woman is killed by a current or former partner. Of women who have experienced domestic violence, 73 per cent have experienced more than one incident of violence and 61 per cent had children in their care when the violence occurred.

Women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence at the hands of a partner, and this violence can be more severe. Additionally, there is also evidence that women in rural or regional areas are more likely to experience violence. Research has pointed to narrowly constructed notions of masculinity that emphasise traditional gender roles and the physicality of rural men’s labour, plus patterns of alcohol consumption, as risk factors pertinent to regional and remote areas.

Both women with disabilities and women living in rural or regional areas are less likely to report domestic violence for many of the same reasons: fear of not being believed, lack of access to services, isolation, and lack of access to transport and telecommunications. Kim Hunt fit into both of these categories.

Perhaps the media should be focussing on the factors that make women vulnerable to violence and raising awareness of how we can help, rather than using disability as a scapegoat yet again.

For other examples of this, we need look no further than the reporting of the Oscar Pistorius trial. Assertions that “psychological trauma” caused by having his legs amputated when he was 11-months-old and living as an amputee led to him shooting and killing Reeva Steenkamp. Further, some reports have said that the failure of his (now deceased) mother to comfort him at the time would have added to the trauma and caused him to suffer ongoing anxiety in adulthood.

Yet again, the blame for violence committed by a man is placed squarely at the feet of a woman.

Is disability relevant in the lives of individual people? Of course it is. But it must never be treated as an excuse for violence. And an overemphasis in reporting does us all a disservice.

For the entire post:


Stella Young is a comedian, disability advocate and Editor of ABC’s Ramp Up website.


Twitter: @stellajyoung


Read some of her recent work:

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