Yesterday, my heart broke. I realized that when I fret and stress about my daughter’s future, and if she will be bullied and treated like dirt when I’m gone, I’m right to do so, despite people telling me it will be OK. Yesterday, I realized that just by lighting up buildings blue, changing our profile pic to a framed one with autism awareness on it, and pretending that we understand, we are all just a bunch of hypocrites. I had thought that to some extent, people understood. I put my daughter out there, to give a face to autism, and to make people understand that even pretty girls who look typical (I refuse to use the word normal), can have different needs.
We have all seen that post, shared by a concerned mother after she stated that a man grabbed her daughter’s dummy, ‘touched his private part’ with it, and ran off until she confronted him. The version changed slightly later, and it seems that the dummy was hidden in his pants (which seems to be confirmed by the fact that the mother’s hand is clearly seen holding the retrieved dummy in the photo, which I personally would not do had it been rubbed up against a stranger’s bits). The post was put up in the aim to identify this ‘monster’, this ‘paedophile’, this ‘scum bag’, so that the police could speak to him.
People were horrified. I was too. What kind of person does this? Until another mother commented that this man had stolen her child’s dummy too and it became clear he was interested in dummies, not kids. Acquaintances of the man confirmed my suspicions and stepped in and explained that he has an intellectual disability. Perverts do not steal a dummy, in full view of the parents. Judging by court cases it is relatives and neighbours we need to worry about.
I felt for this man’s mother. I could see myself in her shoes in the future when people assume my daughter is a criminal.
To be clear, I can understand this mother. Before I lived autism, I would have been concerned too. She was scared for her child and worried and I get that. I stopped feeling sympathy for her when she stated that the whole point of the post was to identify the man, so that the police could speak to him, yet left it there for hours despite knowing full well that the police tracked him down, and it had been shared 600 times. People messaged her, and begged her not to put him in danger, yet she refused until it seems she was ordered to. Her first instinct was to protect her child, but when a child is clearly not in danger, making a man with intellectual disabilities a target is just pure evil.
The comments were awful. A kind soul reported where he works, in the hope of making him lose his job. Someone tried to point out that that it was not a sexual act, and that the dummy was taken because this man just did not know better, and that he needs help. The reply he got from various men was that he needed help to kill himself. Others called him scum, pervert, threatened to cut his penis off, kill him, hurt him – the list is endless. Another comment stated that his mother was there, but as she is elderly, she did not realise that something had happened until he had gone and that she is distraught.
I felt for this man’s mother. I could see myself in her shoes in the future when people assume my daughter is a criminal. This woman has suffered more than I have, since she had to raise a child at a time when there was less awareness than there is now, and God knows how many struggles she has been through, but whilst she was probably prepared for hate, social exclusion and mockery, I do not think that back then she considered the possibility of a world where her son would be made a target on a social media platform.
The media is guilty too. Whilst he was depicted as a pervert, and people were crying out for him to be locked up, to be imprisoned, to be chained in public, the man who allegedly killed his mother and sister this week, was described on the media as ‘a nice man, who loves animals’. Lovin Malta disappointed me with the headline stating: ‘Police investigate man for stuffing baby’s dummy down his pants’. Great sensational headline. Baby? The last line of the article states that they blurred out the photo as the police have informed them that he has mental issues. Oh, then that’s alright then.
But I also wonder what help is in place for his parents who are elderly and just do not have the energy to do this. More help needs to be set up. Carers need to be provided.
Lately I have started to walk away from arguments, but I could not let this one go. Obviously, I was attacked and called a pervert too, and I was asked to imagine what I would have done had he done that to my child. Believe me I did imagine it. Except that I imagined my daughter in the man’s shoes, not as the one whose dummy got stolen. I imagined her as an adult, still stimming, still not aware of her surroundings, and grabbing a child’s dummy despite the fact that we have overcome her obsession with them and hiding it in her underwear, which is what she does when she knows it’s wrong. As I was sitting there trying to absorb it all, another eloquent post came up stating that his mother is an animal and she should be beaten too. Another woman tried to stop the hate, by pointing out that no one is in danger, only to be called a ‘retard’ by another female.
Facebook posts scare me. We all remember that grandfather who was watching his grandchildren at Swieqi park, who was accused on a mummy’s group on Facebook of being a pervert because he was taking photos (of his own grandchildren). We also remember the post about the ‘black man’ who abused a child in Ghadira and it turned out to be a lie by a ‘go buck to your cuntree’ supporter who felt that the black man had taken her spot on the beach. It really could happen to you one day.
Lighting up Parliament is not enough. We need campaigns, awareness, and real help.
A lot of people said that the man should not go out unaccompanied. I tend to agree with this, especially now that people want to hurt him. But I also wonder what help is in place for his parents who are elderly and just do not have the energy to do this. More help needs to be set up. Carers need to be provided. People like this man have every right to go out, children like the girl concerned have every right to not have her dummy stolen, but for this to happen, we need carers that help people with conditions to keep them, and others safe. Our kids need to have help when we are too old to care for them or when we are gone. My child deserves this help.
I know we have an advantage. My daughter was diagnosed at a time when help and therapy is available, and with the help she is getting, I try to be positive and try to swallow the lump I get in my throat every time I worry. Also, she is a girl, and when she grows up, any childlike behaviour will not be seen as sexual deviance like an adult male’s will. But that does not comfort me. The ignorance I read today scared me. The hatred that is alive in this country is heart wrenching. Something needs to be done and awareness needs to be tangible and systems need to be in place. Lighting up Parliament is not enough. We need campaigns, awareness, and real help. However, considering that therapy is still not funded by the Government, I will not hold my breath, and in the meantime, my heart will break all over again, every time an adult with a condition is targeted on Facebook by people who really should know better.
This blog post was written by guest contributor Dr. Audrey Komrij Jones, lawyer and campaigner for the awareness of Autism in Malta.
For more information and support relating to Autism in Malta contact Hand in Hand Malta.