What does it take to draw attention to the harassment and other mistreatment suffered by people with disabilities? What does it take for the police and society at large to care? The answer, for the UK at least, appears to be a death. Indeed, for the issue of hate crimes against the disabled to become a major social issue has required not only several well-publicized cases in which such individuals were murdered but also a murder-suicide carried out by a desperate mother.
Recently, a jury returned a verdict on the 2007 deaths of Francecca and Fiona Pilkington. They determined that it was suicide and “unlawful killing” and that the failure of the police to protect the Pilkingtons from bullying youths had contributed to Fiona’s decision to end her life and her daughter’s. Their bodies were found in a car that had been doused with petrol and then set alight. Here was a mother who had been pushed beyond her limits in caring for her child, not because of the child’s disabilities but because of the way society responded to those disabilities.
That said, I do not think this was only about ending the torment she and her daughter experienced. There are easier, less painful ways to die. To choose such a dramatic method was also a way for a woman who was too frightened and unsure to defend herself to at last make a statement which no one could forget. She found a way within her limited resources and abilities to send a message to her community.
Was it right for her to make the decision to use her child in doing so, to make the decision to die on that young woman’s behalf? No. But acknowledging that does not change the fact that she herself felt trapped and had been gravely mistreated, nor does it change the fact that this act has brought new attention to the importance of enforcing laws against disability hate crimes.
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