Big Society, Disability and Civil Society Research

Website for ESRC research project 'Big Society? Disabled People with Learning Disabilities and Civil Society'

A few violent individuals?

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On 2nd October, 2013, The New Statesman published an article “Covering Up Abuse: How Winterbourne View happened again (http://www.newstatesman.com/business/2013/10/covering-abuse-how-winterbourne-view-happened-again).

The article recounts how Susan Murphy and James Hinds abused people with learning disabilities for two years between 2005 and 2007 at the Solar Centre in Doncaster. Yet another distressing account of de-humanizing behaviour by “care staff” that “got away with it”. A story of delays in prosecution, the difficulties of proceeding with a case when the witnesses are ‘vulnerable’ and a refusal to carry out a serious case review.

But the difference with this article was the tag line: “These aren’t isolated instances. It’s cultural, and it’s grown out of what’s happened in the care sector.” This isn’t the reporting that we normally see. Usually the focus is on individual abusers, their individual personal characteristics, in individual settings. Following the Winterbourne View trial, Wayne Rogers, one of those convicted, was described as having a “particularly cruel nature”, another, Graham Doyle, was “cruel and callous” and the culture of the home was described as being like ‘disease, cancer and fog’ (Daily Mail, 2012 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223514/Winterbourne-View-11-care-home-workers-sentenced-abuse-exposed-BBC-Panorama.html).

In our 2011 paper about violence in the lives of disabled children (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2010.01302.x/full), we came to the conclusion that:
“violence experienced by disabled children and their families says more about the dominant culture of disablism than it does the acts of a few seemingly irrational, unreasonable, mean, violent individuals.” This is important because if we continue to blame “a few violent individuals”, we don’t need to think about the systemic and cultural change that is needed to prevent abuse. Identifying the callous characters of a few ‘bad’ people stands in the way of thinking carefully about the care practices and policies that meant that anyone ever thought it was acceptable to warehouse people with learning disabilties on an industrial estate like Winterbourne View. And most importantly, focusing on “a few violent individuals” will do little to prevent another Winterbourne View or a Solar Centre and the tragic consequences this has for the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families.

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