|via State Library & Archives of Florida|
We’re not huge Law and Order fans, but we’ll watch it occasionally. Last night, we caught a couple of episodes of Criminal Intent.
The second episode was about a mother of four who attempted to kill herself and all four of her children by blowing up the family car. Long story short, the detectives discovered three primary contributing factors to this mom’s actions:
- A mentally/emotionally abusive husband
- Postpartum depression
- Her eldest son had dysgraphia
Frankly, I doubt the third point would have been as much of a factor if the first two weren’t as severe as they were.
The dysgraphia itself wasn’t well represented. They showed one of the boy’s writing exercises, which was basically just sloppy handwriting, just before she packed the kids in the car and took them out for a final ride.
Later on in the episode, they showed him again in the hospital. He was working on another exercise. This time, the writing had been prewritten in a dotted line format, so he could trace the letters, which he did perfectly. There was also a supposedly hand drawn and colored dinosaur, which was basically perfect, outside of a few spots where the color escaped the lines.
That fits the same old trope of a disability being cured by the end of the episode. It also ignores the other issues kids with dysgraphia face, like in holding the pencil, writing anxiety or fine motor problems. The LD was just a plot device.
I do give them points for choosing to represent that particular learning difference, though. I hope it makes watchers curious enough about it to do some research of their own.
This wasn’t the first time a Law & Order episode featured postpartum depression, but it was the first one I’ve seen that centered so strongly around mental/emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is one of those things that’s so hard to spot that it often goes unnoticed until well after the victim escapes. Accurate statistics are ridiculously hard to come by, but I was able to find these from Canada.
In listening to stories from a lot of adults with learning disabilities, it seems this form of abuse is particularly common in our circles. Our LDs can easily be used as weapons in the hands of already abusive circumstances. They’re already used to infantilize and minimize us by the culture at large, so it’s not hard for abusers to build upon those messages.
As mentioned in Melanie’s great emotional abuse series on her blog, it’s a common theme on Lifetime movies, but you don’t see it named in other forms of media very often.
I think that may be in big part because it’s seen as a “women’s issue”, since women are more likely to be subjected to it. Pigeonholing any type of abuse into an issue for one gender is harmful because it becomes normalized for women, and men are left without resources, due to the fact it doesn’t fit into our culture’s “male” box.
|The Cycle of Abuse
By moggs oceanlane (Flickr: Abuse: power & control behaviours) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Even though Law and Order failed to represent dysgraphia well, they did do a decent job of demonstrating the harm emotional abuse can do and how helpless the law is to address it. From what I’ve read, emotional abuse can be used to back up abuse and harassment cases in court, but almost impossible to use as a primary call for protection.
That doesn’t change the fact that emotional abuse is almost always a precursor to physical or sexual abuse, just like animal cruelty is.
Some state child abuse laws do include mental/emotional abuse in their language. If you’re in the US, you can find summaries your state laws here.
Back to the Law and Order episode.
Since the mother was the focus, we didn’t see how the child was effected by the father’s abusiveness. However, they did show how dismissive abusers are to the existence of disabilities in general, and how heavily the mom was blamed for the child’s poor academic performance.
In fact, he used the exact same lines I’ve heard over and over throughout my life, they weren’t “trying hard enough” and they couldn’t do anything without “extra guidance”, eg micromanagement, isolation and bullying.
Bear in mind, most people who used those lines on me weren’t abusive; they just didn’t understand how dyslexia worked. However, those same words are used by abusers as a way to further break their victims down.
In the example of the father character, that’s exactly what happened. A huge part of emotional abuse is the abuser blaming the victim for things they either can’t help or had no part in. They may even brainwash other people into believing their false claims, further isolating their victim from any sort of support system.
If you think you’re being abused, and you feel safe enough to do so, check this hotline out. Abusers always choose to abuse. It’s not an honest mistake, and it’s never the victim’s fault, regardless of what others might tell you.