Last week, there was extensive media coverage of the murder of a young disabled woman by her mother. Much of this early coverage exclusively focused on how disabled Ruby was, how challenging she was to look after, how loving the mother was, and how hard the mother fought to get better support and help for Ruby. Unfortunately, there was no attempt in these early articles to balance out the mother’s story with what Ruby might have been feeling or experiencing.
I am on a number of disability forums, and it was clear that the impact of the one-sided coverage was incredibly traumatising for many disabled people, some of whom have grown up with horrendous abuse, parental rejection or even attempts on their lives by the very people meant to be protecting them. For them, the absence of a perspective from people living with disabilities devalued them and their lived experiences.
Especially alarming was the statement by a supporter of the mother expressing her view that this was not murder but euthanasia.
Thankfully a later article by Simon Collins did include the perspective and experiences of disabled people, which were diverse as to be expected.
My own view is that it is vital to recognise that government and society didn’t just fail to support the mother, but failed her daughter Ruby as well. There were many indications that Ruby was at risk and yet no-one took responsibility for her safety.
Although it’s hard to track down statistics, the information we have shows that children with disabilities are much more vulnerable to abuse – physical, emotional and sexual – than other children.
We must not normalise the abuse of children with disabilities as an understandable response to stress. Most parents never harm, abuse or kill their child no matter what stress they are under.
Finally, Government must accept responsibility for its own part in making support so hard to access for the parents of children with disabilities. I fully support the call for a review of support services and increased funding. In the meantime, I urge the media to be more responsible in its coverage of cases like Ruby, and to actively seek out the perspective of people living with disabilities – in fact that’s something we could all be better at.