Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cassandra's Impact on Autistic Victims of Domestic Violence

Much of the criticism surrounding the faux Cassandra disorder invented by Maxine Aston, wherein she claims that being in a romantic relationship with an autistic person causes psychological harm to a non-autistic partner, has focused on the efforts of associated hate groups such as FAAAS to stereotype autistics as violent and unfit for family life. This false portrayal reflects a longstanding prejudice, recently addressed by ASAN President Ari Ne'eman, that people with disabilities are "inherently unfit as spouses or parents." To the extent this baseless prejudice is given credence by family law judges and social workers, it endangers the basic human right to marry and raise children. I received an e-mail just this morning, discussing the Cassandra scam and the harm caused by disability stereotypes, from a woman who wrote that "until I was 24 I wouldn't have been allowed to get married in many states in the USA. Why? Because I am epileptic."

Such stereotypes can be especially dangerous to autistic victims of domestic violence. Like other people with disabilities, many autistic people who are victims of abusive relationships are particularly vulnerable and may have great difficulty escaping from a life-threatening situation. If, because of the bigoted stereotype that the autistic partner is always to blame for family problems, an abused autistic's cries for help go unanswered, this could result in her death at the hands of her abuser. The feminist disability rights group F.R.I.D.A. points out that domestic violence against women with disabilities is widespread and that much more action needs to be taken to stop it. (For those of my readers who are in Illinois, there will be a F.R.I.D.A. rally at the State Capitol in Springfield on May 22, 2009, from 1:00 to 5:00 PM, addressing the issue of domestic violence against women with disabilities; please consider attending the rally to show your support if you can do so.)

I have reprinted below, with permission, a statement from an autistic woman who wrote of her struggle to escape a violent marriage and how difficult it was for her to explain the abuse to others. Fortunately, she was able to escape safely and to find people to help her. Others in her situation have not been so lucky.


I am having a very hard time explaining why I stayed so long, etc., because NTs do not seem to understand why a person with my apparent intelligence believed so many lies. I know this is a common thing among battered women, but trying to explain how an abuser would manipulate an intelligent woman's gullibility and social anxiety so well is very hard any time I have to deal with anyone who is not experienced with autistics or battered women in general. He is already using my inability to process information quickly to manipulate the court process by changing potential settlements at the last minute, while we are in court, so that I can't comprehend them in a meaningful way while I am on a time limit to sign. I have a very good attorney (legal aid turned us down so I had to pay for my own which is going to be very problematic financially since having a very good one is crucial and not cheap). We are very lucky to have one CPS finding against him and irrefutable evidence of infidelity (which is more useful than undocumented testimony about physical abuse, since he is of course lying about the extent of the abuse and trying to take advantage of the fact that the children are too young to go to court).

I am astounded by the lack of information on abuse against autistic partners right now and so saddened by the whole "cassandra" myth. My husband used my quirks as excuses for beating and cheating on me although from his perspective, having a wife who was afraid of conflict, absolutely faithful, very easy to lie to, easy to isolate so that no one else would know about the abuse and report it, and unable to conceal anything (including hidden bank accounts that I tried unsuccessfully to use to get out), was a huge plus. I have a friend who is a former attorney and battered women's advocate and is trying to help me communicate with my lawyer right now, which has been very difficult so far, but I am still very scared. Thankfully we have already gotten an agreement for no unsupervised visitation but it will still be very hard to endure the rest of the proceedings which may last a year or more.

The thing that gets me is that I know that as typical as I am of women on the spectrum in so many ways, I am sure there are a lot of people in my position who are suffering in silence. I was lucky that there are two staff members at the shelter with autistic family members who have helped advocate for me when the group living situation has become unbearable, but I don't know how it is in other shelters and suspect many other autistics in similar situations may not be so lucky.

I will have to look for that book next time I am at the library. It was a Gavin De Becker book that finally helped me read the nonverbal signs well enough to recognize the risk and get out quickly the day that I am sure I would have ended up dead or too injured to get the kids out in time. I continue to think the fact that I managed to find homes for the pets, get access to the car (I have never been allowed to have my own), and get the kids out of the house in less than two hours that day was a miracle.



Edit, June 27: Here is a link to a post by chaoticidealism on this topic, Cassandra's Opposite.

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22 Comments:

  • We need to not forget that this is not just a woman's issue. My ex-wife was physically and emotionally abusive to me for many years. When it came down to it, no one believed that it was possible for her to do this, women just don't hit men. She even once threatened to kill me, and said that she knew she could get away with it by claiming that it was self-defense (even though I'd never laid a hand on her.) I bet there are many autistic men out there stuck in the situation I was.

    By Blogger Miles Orion, at 3:56 PM  

  • My NT ex-wife was abusive to me too, in ways I'm still figuring out, 29 years later. She knew how to push my buttons, played mind games, lied to me about my few friends to get them out of my life, even threw away letters from my family, cutting off those relationships too. I think she delighted in "winding me up", now that I look back on it. She wanted to be the "favorite parent" to our kids, and she got it, (for what it's worth).

    I finally left her, after nearly 15 years, on 5 May 1980. Celebrated a little last night.

    By Blogger Clay, at 4:13 PM  

  • Clay,
    She was the favorite parent because you were a useless drunk.

    By Blogger Foresam, at 4:36 PM  

  • That shows what You know, John. I don't drink, and didn't then either. Is drinking the only way You know to celebrate?

    By Blogger Clay, at 5:07 PM  

  • Thank you for raising my epilepsy issue. Very few people understand it. They think it's just a tonic-clonic thing. I get so miffed when people accuse me of being NT. It's like I have to educate others to understand about the inter-rictal stuff. My Prof, last week, sent me off into 'spiking' by just bullying me, intellectually, but it hurt physically, and he had no clue. My brain didn't recover for 72 hours.

    I know all about this crapola. But how do I ever explain it to others? And you know what the greatest offence is? That some on the spectrum class me as neuro-typical. HOW DARE THEY???? I find that so hard to live with. My impairment is as constant and bloody annoying as yours, mate.Last night I was accused of being drunk by an AS guy who wanted to claim the impairment high ground. How lovely.

    If we are going to get together as a neurodiverse community - and believe me, having had to research disability politics for my PhD, this ain't gonna happen any time soon - we are only at the baby stage.

    I can't see it happening. Honestly. I can't see much understanding about other neurological disabilities coming from the autistic community. It's all in its infancy. We have to understand ourselves in order to reach out to others who may ALSO have alternative wiring.

    When we stop thinking it's all about me, then maybe we can start thinking community.

    I've always wanted people to understand and accept my difference. I want to talk about inter-rictal activity. But I don't think it's gonna happen. Ever. Epilepsy is the last under-researched taboo. It's sad. I live with it. I'm not claiming victim status. It's a fact of my life that doesn't attract big news or big bucks, because my brain works perfectly 'adequately' with its slightly annoying but permanent trauma. I have a 169 IQ.

    I AM NOT NT. Get it?

    :)ashingsa

    By Blogger Barbara, at 6:00 PM  

  • Blogger Miles Orion said...

    We need to not forget that this is not just a woman's issue. My ex-wife was physically and emotionally abusive to me for many years. When it came down to it, no one believed that it was possible for her to do this, women just don't hit men. She even once threatened to kill me, and said that she knew she could get away with it by claiming that it was self-defense (even though I'd never laid a hand on her.) I bet there are many autistic men out there stuck in the situation I was.

    Not only autistic men. What most people don't realise is that domestic violence is a 51%/49% statistical issue, and the 49% is male on female violence. So female on male violence is higher. Slightly.

    When I was doing a radio show on domestic violence a truck driver volunteered to drive past our studio and let us examine him. He was battered and bruised and cut all over his body. He was very scared. He loved his wife. She hurt him.

    Things are sometimes not as simple as we think, and not so easily put into categories.

    By Blogger Barbara, at 6:23 PM  

  • Barbara, I do feel for you. You have been through such a lot.
    Being misunderstood and treated in a cruel and unfair way when a disability is present is painful. Thank you for sharing this story with us.
    Your courage is inspiring.
    Tammy

    By Anonymous Tammy, at 9:54 PM  

  • CFG has written;“I understood in hindsight that she would have felt very angry with me because I interfered with her "taking a stand" against his alleged "abusive" behaviour and manner of speaking towards her. She had left in order to encourage him to have a "change of heart".

    On a previous topic here on this Blog, about a different Cassandra victim, we can read of a woman who using the handle of CFG acknowledges she runs one of these off balanced partners groups. She openly admits she interfered with the victims stand she was attempting to make against domestic abuse in her marriage.
    The story of the astonishing example relates how it was believed the victim had Aspergers Syndrome.
    We can see by the response, the Cassandra group leader here, had become involved to the extent, she took a side in a marriage and supported the husband, against his wife. Apparently discounting the women’s cry for help.
    In her defense we read the Cassandra group leader takes us into a lengthy ugly and condescending account of all the victims’faults.

    Victimizing the victim is an extension of spousal abuse. To become a protective party to the offender makes one the same as the offender; the "co-abuser".
    To support an abuser gives him even more power over his victim.
    It’s immoral if not illegal. It can be dangerous for the victim if physical battering has been apart of the issue, or is likely to occur.
    There is no justifying spousal abuse of any kind.
    But to stand in the way of the abuser being held to account or in taking responsibility is plain stupid co-dependant behavior.

    Aston and FAAAS have a lot to answer to.

    Tammy

    By Anonymous Tammy, at 10:06 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction), at 1:15 AM  

  • "That shows what You know, John. I don't drink, and didn't then either. Is drinking the only way You know to celebrate?"

    Seems he's stopped projecting that one onto me and transferred it onto you, Clay. He's a pathetic man if he can't acknowledge his own shortcomings to himself instead of projecting them onto everybugger else, isn't he?

    By Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction), at 2:56 AM  

  • "I am astounded by the lack of information on abuse against autistic partners right now and so saddened by the whole "cassandra" myth."


    It's an area that deserves a great deal more attention from the clinicians and academics.

    For us, there should be a easily accessible guide to the kind of people we attract, and the warning signs to look out for.

    Me and my mother both witnessed the most horrific abuse my late brother endured for the sake of providing for his stepson.

    I feel his partner was directly responsible for his death.

    By Blogger Socrates, at 3:24 PM  

  • subscription hack

    By Blogger Socrates, at 3:24 PM  

  • a Gavin de Becker bookWas it The Gift of Fear?

    I also think that, besides all the factors ABFH and Clay mention, autistics may have additional difficulties recognizing they're being abused because a) our relationships, even the good ones, don't always look like NT relationships, and well-meaning friends might think they see a problem where there isn't one, or fail to see one when there is, and also b) we're often less able to speak up for ourselves.

    I think for us especially, outside support from friends and family who know us well is important when we enter into relationships. (Of course, we're also less likely to have these extensive support networks in the first place!)

    By Blogger Lindsay, at 3:52 PM  

  • "Your courage is inspiring"

    Tammy, thanks for that. But I don't have courage, I have defiance. It's as basic and primitive as that.

    A therapist told me it's the basic survival instinct (I got my epilepsy because when I was a baby my mum kept trying to kill me by drowning me and I had a brain bleed and hypoxia - hence epilepsy). There is not blame to any of this, and no heroics. It's just the fight to live.

    That's why I pity no one. Pity is what charities live on. They ask us to pity people, and give them money so they can patronise them.

    Life is a series of choices. The defiant people will make the right ones, but won't win many friends. The victim types will plead 'poor me, Look at my suffering!'and will win patrons. It's no way to live.

    Maxine Aston makes her living from people who believe they should be pitied or admired for their bravery. That's anathema to me. People live because they have a desire to live. End of. But it's a decent living for her, isn't it?

    Pity politics stink.

    By Blogger Barbara, at 4:54 PM  

  • I have one acquaintance who used to be a divorce attorney. He had to get out of it because all of the lying and the games sickened him.

    My sister was in an abusive relationship, and it was scary to me. She is a very intelligent woman who somehow had a blindspot for this guy. He started by manipulating and controlling her psychologically, and then progressed to physical abuse. By the time it was physical she was willing to look the other way (for a while). Thank G_d she got out of that.

    As to epilepsy, I'm currently writing a paper for a class on eugenics. When compulsory sterilization laws were all the rage in the US (from about 1904 up until 1980!) besides being criminal, poor, or "feeble-minded", one of the qualifying conditions that could get you sterilized without your consent was epilepsy.

    Joe

    (why is my verification word "dowdy"?)

    By Blogger Club 166, at 9:25 PM  

  • Barbara,
    "What most people don't realise is that domestic violence is a 51%/49% statistical issue, and the 49% is male on female violence. So female on male violence is higher. Slightly."Oy:
    Domestic violence statistics.

    By Blogger Gonzo, at 1:23 AM  

  • One only has to look at the AS Partners forum at Delphi forums to see the verbal violence being depicted by witches who need to pull their heads in.

    By Blogger Timelord, at 8:20 AM  

  • "One only has to look at the AS Partners forum at Delphi forums to see the verbal violence being depicted by witches who need to pull their heads in."

    They're not going to listen to aspies though. They are listening to one though. I think she has figured out how to establish rapport with the women of aspartners. If anyone can get through to them it may be her.

    By Blogger Cube Demon, at 2:03 PM  

  • It blows my mind that one could be refused permission to marry based upon a condition/disability etc.

    Isn't it amazing that no matter how many advances we make in civilization we can't quite seem to "get it right"?

    Here's to a more enlightened and peaceful future. Thanks for a magnificently well-written article!

    By Blogger Sister Sunshine, at 12:39 AM  

  • I don't know if abusive partners show this pattern, but school bullies show a gender divide with physical abuse being more commonly done by boys and emotional abuse by girls. I wonder if abusive women partners are more likely to be emotionally abusive than physically? If so, it could be even harder for an autistic abuse victim to recognize and deal with, because emotional abuse can leave you unaware you're even being abused (while still hurting you as deeply, if not more).

    By Blogger Ettina, at 3:18 PM  

  • I have a friend with an Autistic daughter and he had to get a divorce because his wife was physically abusive toward him. She even drew blood... so yes, women can be both verbally AND physically abusive even if it is less common.

    By Blogger Sister Sunshine, at 5:21 PM  

  • "That's why I pity no one. Pity is what charities live on. They ask us to pity people, and give them money so they can patronise them.
    Life is a series of choices. The defiant people will make the right ones, but won't win many friends. The victim types will plead 'poor me, Look at my suffering!'and will win patrons. It's no way to live."

    Does these mean you will give to no charity?

    Sometimes defiance and willpower is not enough. Sometimes your choices are taken away from you. Sometimes you are completely paralysed and completely dependent on others.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:31 PM  

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