19 October 2016

The murder of disabled children is often excused.

Warning: This post contains content about violence, murder and suicide related to disability. 

I've been struggling reading about the alleged murder-suicide that happened in Sydney earlier this week.

Two parents, their children and their dog were found dead in their home. Police report an elaborate gas system was deliberately set up in the home. Media states the children had profound disabilities and their mother struggled to cope. Neighbours said they were good, loving parents.   

(It has also been reported that the mother wanted to move back to her homeland of Colombia " to relieve the crushing pressure of raising two severely autistic children.")  

That's all we know for now. I hope it was an accident.

But police have confirmed the worst. And the focus on the children's disability in reports suggest their disability might have been a motive. While we don't know all the facts the media has a lot to answer for in its reporting and portrayal of people with disabilities.   

The commenters sympathise with the reports of the alleged murder-suicide. Comments like: "It's understandable." "Walk a mile in their shoes." "We shouldn't judge." "It's so hard raising children with special needs." "As a parent pf children on the spectrum, I relate." And "It was an act of love." (You can read some actual comments here)  

I cant imagine the pain felt by the family's loved ones.

It's a tragedy too awful  to comprehend. The wider disability community is hurting too. This needs to be talked about. And I have tried to write this as respectfully as possible.      If this case does relate to the stress disability has on a family, then...  

The level of sympathy towards parents who kill their disabled children is much different to the level of sympathy towards other parents who have killed non disabled children. (Briannon Lee also writes about the level of focus on the parents in these stories, as opposed to the children. Read her excellent piece from an autism/parent perspective here.)  

When Robert Farquarson drove his car into a Victorian lake on Fathers Day 2005, killing his three children, media described the murder as "incomprehensible" and a "cowardly act".     But when a parent allegedly murders their disabled child, the public (and judges, jurors) sympathises, emphathises even. Because it's difficult raising a child with a disability. This is ableism. It is as though a disabled life is worth less than a non disabled one. 

Countless disabled people are impacted by violence and murder, and the whole disability community is affected by how these cases are judged and the way the media reports on them. These incidents aren't infrequent. (You can read about some of the disabled people who have been killed in Australia at the White Flower Memorial page. The White Flower Memorial serves to remember those with disabilities who have died in institutional care, in detention and in domestic care situations.)  

I've not been a parent (nor a parent of a disabled child). I haven't experienced the strain and the worries. I don't have autism. But I've been a disabled child. I've seen my parents struggle. Ive experienced discrimination, exclusion, financial hardship, pain and ableism. I've also been told that I shouldn't have been born, and that I'm a burden. Many of my disabled friends have heard similar things about them too.    

Tragedies like Monday's shake the disability community. It's incredibly sad - I'm saddened that the family is dead and I'm sad a lack of support may have driven a parent to this. But I'm sadder at the commenters justifying that killing disabled people is understandable because the children are disabled. This does nothing for disabled people's self worth. Imagine what it's like to hear news reports about murders of people like you, or to read comments that are (often unintentionally) ableist, saying they understand why a parent may have murdered their disabled child? Many disabled people are struggling with the news right now, especially with the commentary excusing it.  

When a parent kills their disabled child, it's believed to be a mercy killing. Hell, an anonymous mother has already penned a piece for Mamamia saying she and her husband have discussed killing their disabled children.   

In 2014, after Geoff Hunt murdered his wife and children and then killed himself near Holbook, media reports painted him as a victim. It was a burdensome task looking after his wife who acquired a brain injury a few years prior. It seemed understandable, why he murdered his wife and kids.  

At the time, Stella Young wrote:     
"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."  

Again, if this case does relate to the stress of disability on a family, then...

More respite and emotional support needs to be provided to parents and carers so it never comes to this. Stigma around disability needs to be erased. Perhaps a white flag system needs to be in place - when someone is struggling, they can safely take their children to care. I don't know the answers, and I can't bear to think why this happened, nor read the comments.  

We all need to play a part in ensuring people with disabilities and their families are included and supported in the community, and can ask for and receive adequate help. But murder is never justified because a child or adult is disabled and it becomes too much for someone to cope with.   

My thoughts are with the family and everyone who loved them.


  1. Thank you for writing this, Carly.

    You've acknowledged many hard truths we as a community have to face and change.

    SSG xxx

  2. I don't have a child with a disability, but my partner works with children and adults with profound physical and intellectual disabilities. He had one student who, at the age of 15, was was physically large and strong, and prone to outbursts of extreme violence. My partner, who is a big bloke, was attacked by this child at work and was injured, although not severely. This boy attacked his mother, the family had to call the police as they were not able to stop him, and his mother was hospitalised with significant injuries. The only solution put to this family by all the various agencies and departments involved in the situation was to have him placed in a secure mental health facility for an indefinite period. Imagine being a parent with that choice - have the child at home and risk injury or death, or have him sectioned in a mental health unit? You are so right in saying there should be a 'white flag' option where parents/carers can say, we cannot do this anymore, but behind that white flag there needs to be appropriate and safe care options available. At present, they simply do not exist, and so many people - both those with disabilities and those who care for them - are in danger.

  3. We as a society need an article telling us not to murder disabled children? I guess we are murdering unborn children at an unprecedented rate, particularly disabled children. So if murder is contraceptive in nature and pre-dates birth it's fine. Got it.

  4. The media is not 'justifying' what happened. They are purely voicing what every person deep down would feel. The immense pressure on those two loving parents would have been enormous. More than any outsider could ever understand. It's tragic but also I understand how suffocated & helpless they must have felt to feel this was the only way out. I feel so much for these two beautiful parents and I don't doubt for a second they loved their children more than anything in the world.

  5. Ths simple fact is that support for those with a disability and those who care for them is getting worse. We have seen continued decline in services as part of the preparation for NDIS. When we had no choice but to ask for help we were told that only the 'worst cases' could recieve aid, and therefore we should give up our child into government care. They argue that costs are the factor, yet perminant care costs far more than the little help some ask for. The isolation and inability to see a safe future for our children is a major factor in the breakups of families and stress causing such sad incidence. I can not condone it, but I can see why this happened and with the decline in services unfortunately we will see more.

  6. Excellent article, thank you

    No ABC its NOT what every person deep down would feel! I don't. My autistic nephew has the same rights as you.

  7. I can relate to a lot of what this family has to go through as I have lived through some of their circumstances.

    I want to highlight that when something bad happens to me is entirely different from the same thing happens to my kids. That’s is parenting. It causes stress and anxiety far and beyond a non-parent can understand. It cause a person flip out of character when things get very difficult. Is that an excuse for the tragedy? Absolutely not! We speak out in the hope that people understand so we can get support to ensure the worst won’t happen. So we can be in better health to care for our children and provide them a fairer chance at life. The most difficult bit is judgements like your article. If you don’t want others to judge you, then you shouldn’t judge others.

    But I do agree that in the pursuit of hope, we neglected you. For that I thank you very much for helping me realising I need to take greater concern of our action and consider its impact. I think people with disabilities should express themselves more. Often we hear about how their achievements and celebrations. But I think we should hear more about the challenges they are going through. Tragically, Autism is one of the only disabilities that does not have a voice.

  8. Thanks for voicing this so eloquently Carly. I felt uneasy when I heard the media reports on Monday and now I understand why. Keep writing with honesty


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