5.04.2010

raw story: u.s. school for disabled tortures students with electric shocks

Other than repeating WTF WTF WTF over and over, I post this without comment.
US school for disabled forces students to wear packs that deliver massive electric shocks

Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) has filed a report and urgent appeal with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture alleging that the Judge Rotenberg Center for the disabled, located in Massachusetts, violates the UN Convention against Torture.

The rights group submitted their report this week, titled "Torture not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center," after an in-depth investigation revealed use of restraint boards, isolation, food deprivation and electric shocks in efforts to control the behaviors of its disabled and emotionally troubled students.

Findings in the MDRI report include the center's practice of subjecting children to electric shocks on the legs, arms, soles of feet and torso -- in many cases for years -- as well as some for more than a decade. Electronic shocks are administered by remote-controlled packs attached to a child's back called a Graduated Electronic Decelerators (GEI).

The disabilities group notes that stun guns typically deliver three to four milliamps per shock. GEI packs, meanwhile, shock students with 45 milliamps -- more than ten times the amperage of a typical stun gun.

A former employee of the center told an investigator, "When you start working there, they show you this video which says the shock is 'like a bee sting' and that it does not really hurt the kids. One kid, you could smell the flesh burning, he had so many shocks. These kids are under constant fear, 24/7. They sleep with them on, eat with them on. It made me sick and I could not sleep. I prayed to God someone would help these kids."

. . . .

Mother Jones magazine published an extensive investigative report on the Rotenberg Center in 2007 titled "School of Shock." Reporter Jennifer Gonnerman asked, "How many times do you have to zap a child before it's torture?"

Children at the Judge Rotenberg Center are often shackled, restrained and secluded for months at a time, the report says. Social isolation, and food deprivation as forms of punishment are common. Mock and threatened stabbings -- to forcibly elicit unacceptable behaviors resulting in electric shock punishments (Labeled as Behavioral Research Lessons or BRLs, by the center) were reported to MDRI as well as state regulatory bodies. . . .

"One girl who was blind, deaf and non-verbal was moaning and rocking," a former teacher says in the report. "Her moaning was like a cry. The staff shocked her for moaning. Turned out she had broken a tooth. Another child had an accident in the bathroom and was shocked."

The rights group investigation found that the Rotenberg center is the only known facility in the United States, "Or perhaps the world," that employs the use of electricity, long-term restraints and other punishments to deliberately inflict pain upon its children and then refer to it as "treatment."

See original for more and links.

Update: Please see comments for context I felt but was unable to write.

21 comments:

deang said...

As awful as this is, it's an extension of a mindlessly punitive and cruel societal attitude that's developed in the US over the last 20 years - cops routinely tasing people with little cause, even children, the elderly, and the disabled; children, even infants, being put on heavy psychiatric medication when they show any kind of emotion; teenagers "diagnosed" as having "oppositional-defiant disorder" and put on heavy psychiatric medication simply for asking questions; schoolchildren arrested in handcuffs for doodling in class; kids beaten to death in "boot camps"; etc. And Americans by and large just accept it and even make jokes about it ("Don't tase me, bro!").

L-girl said...

deang, you are exactly right. I was too upset by what I read to comment, but as I read the story, this is exactly what I thought of. I will add a link to your comment in the post. Thank you.

I would only add that many Americans accept it the way they accept everything: with their underlying learned helplessness and belief that they cannot change anything.

L-girl said...

it's an extension of a mindlessly punitive and cruel societal attitude that's developed in the US over the last 20 years

And this is intimately related to the US's flagrant, overt use of torture in its wars, occupations and concentration camps, with prominent media personalities justifying and making light of torture - ridiculing those who speak out against it and declaring them enemies of the state.

redsock said...

A fan ran on the field at a baseball game last night in Philadelphia and was tasered. In the video I saw, you can see the guy with the taser gun pointed at him. I wonder how many fans thought they were witnessing an actual murder.

And plenty of people think that's okay because (a) he's an idiot for going on the field and (b) maybe this will stop other people from doing it.

In which case, why not actually shoot him? Have a sniper in the press box. If fans know they absolutely will be killed if they go on the field, I'll bet it won't happen much anymore.

hhw said...

Here's a broadly related blog entry about Alice Miller's work (she died in April):

http://laurietobyedison.com/discuss/?p=2761

L-girl said...

Thanks, hhw. I noticed Miller passed away recently. She had a profound influence on the understanding of the effects of child abuse. I often saw her work quoted when I did work around sexual assault and domestic violence.

johngoldfine said...

Of course, Fred Wiseman's 'Titicut Follies' supposedly put an end to state-supported and sanctioned barbarities in my home state, and that was more than 40 years ago.

Everything Erving Goffman ever taught about institutional life underscores the truth that sooner or later in institutions, there will be institutionalized violence, often rationalized these days as somehow therapeutic.

As Deang says, this is not a few-rotten-apples story. This is what we believe, and what we believe is: you deserve it! And you deserve it even if you haven't done anything wrong. If you yourself are wrong (i.e., disabled, disfigured, or different in some way), that's justification enough to bring down our punishment.

Society has a message for you: you have a burden of wrongness we may not be able to extirpate, but we can certainly bring you to a clear understanding of how we see you and how we expect you to carry yourself as a wrong person.

deang said...

And this is intimately related to the US's flagrant, overt use of torture in its wars, occupations and concentration camps, with prominent media personalities justifying and making light of torture - ridiculing those who speak out against it and declaring them enemies of the state.

Exactly. And poor education in the US results in Americans thinking that the way it is now is the way it's always been, which makes them even less likely to believe efforts to improve things would do any good.

L-girl said...

John, thank you for your eloquence.

Your mention of Wiseman's film, like Geraldo Rivera's expose of Willowbrook around the same time, supposedly ending this kind of torture and abuse, really points to the need for constant, vigilant oversight.

John F said...

I was going to make a comment about B.F. Skinner smiling gently in his grave. However, even the Great Beast of Behaviourism would probably call what is described in that article an inappropriate (to say the least) use of negative reinforcement.

johngoldfine said...

It's worth arguing that all torture ultimately is ultimately sexual in origin and in nature. It is no accident that sadism and masochism, however widely they can be applied, originated in two men's transgressive sexual desires.

What horrified middle America about Abu Ghraib was not torture--that's old hat!-- but the impossibility of denying the sexual component of torture, at AG explicit, though always implicit.

We prefer to keep our torturers blue-eyed, blond, and clean-shaven, as ee cummings once wrote:


i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelov'd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

johngoldfine said...

It's perfectly possible to drive lab animals mad if punishment is either damagingly harsh or random and unrelated to behaviour (Gawd, you've got me doing it now.)

Jolts of the magnitude the trainers were using had nothing to do with what was theoretically supposed to be happening. If a negative isn't working, you rethink what you're using, what you're expecting, and, most of all, as a behaviorist, if something isn't working, you don't moralize and blame the pigeon for not tapping the lever.

If you aren't getting the behaviors you want, you, the trainer, are the one responsible. Thatm particular clarity is exactly the glory of behavior training!

Those trainers were just common, garden variety sadists or sociopaths, bar buddies with Michael Vicks.

L-girl said...

Those trainers were just common, garden variety sadists or sociopaths, bar buddies with Michael Vicks.

Yes.

Yet I wonder, did some staff speak up? Were they coerced or bullied into silence? Did people resign? Go to... who? The police?

How many people particpated who didn't know they enjoyed such a thing? How many people were uncomfortable with their complicity, but complicit anyway?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. Maybe the Mother Jones story answers a few. History (and Milgram, etc) have shown us that more people will participate than not. That's the scariest thing of all.

Thanks for the poem, too, John. I'll have to read it a few times, later.

L-girl said...

Dr Dawg's take

M. Yass said...

deang said...

As awful as this is, it's an extension of a mindlessly punitive and cruel societal attitude that's developed in the US over the last 20 years


American society is addicted to violence and cruelty, often couched in terms of "character building" exercises of one form or another. It starts very early in life where children grow up seeing their mothers beaten by their fathers and are themselves beaten as a form of discipline. (Hey, the bibble says it's okay, so it must be, right?) Small wonder that sort of thing is viewed as acceptable behaviour by large swaths of the American population.

Professional sports are a big part of this culture of violence. What lessons do they teach? Winning at all costs including your health, your body or your life, is a big one. They also teach that conflicts are properly resolved with fists, especially in hockey. And let's not forget about the perversion of American universities from institutions of learning to football teams with trade school attached that are run for profit. I haven't even started talking about the football-obsessed southern U.S. This is doubly true of small towns in the south that make an absolute fetish out of high school football.

To be fair, baseball is better with this sort of thing than other sports - fights are not tolerated and the object of the game isn't to beat the crap out of the other guy. I know this is going to be a bone of contention between us, Laura. Please don't ban me, mmm-kay? ;)

Nitangae said...

I am sure that you all know this (obviously in the case of tazering), but I would like to emphasise that much of what Deang mentions as happening in the US has also been happening in Canada during much the same period - medicalization of misbehavior in schools especially.

Sorry to preach to the choir. I worry that Canadians are made complacent by horrors south of the border.

Northern Girl said...

I am beyond appalled at this school torturing disabled students.

Just when I think I can no longer be shocked about the goings on in the US that I read about, something like this comes along. This is just awful.

L-girl said...

Nitangae, thanks for that. For me, it's yes and no.

It obviously does happen in Canada, and for every victim of such horrors, it's every bit as awful.

But as a whole, culturally, Canada is different than the US in this respect. To me, in Canada it's more like an infection that can be purged or at least treated. In the US, it's completely endemic to the culture.

The national outcry that took place after Robert Dziekanski was killed was an example of that. (Not that he's the only victim.) Or what we are all trying to do over the Afghan detainee issue. In the US, such things are so widespread that it's completely ho-hum.

US culture is so violent - as M Yass says, it's addicted to violence. No society is free of violence, but in Canada it is more exceptional than in the US.

I realize many progressive Canadians think this is a false distinction. I think that's because they don't know the US from the inside out. Just MO, of course.

L-girl said...

M. Yass, thanks for your thoughts. It's not a bone of contention. I know that many people see sports (certainly not just professional sports) as part of a culture of violence.

The trouble with that, for me, is that all cultures all over the world include sport. The world's most popular sport - soccer or football, depending on where you're from - is not considered violent, but a segment of fans engages in extreme violence over it.

Then you have the opposite in hockey. The professional game tolerates a ridiculous amount of fighting, but fans are not engaging in hockey-related violence, or else Canada would be one of the mmmost violent cultures on earth.

Basketball and baseball get left out entirely, neither appreciably violent. Rugby, very violent sport, not associated with cultures of violence.

So the concept doesn't work for me, but I can see it has a part to play.

M. Yass said...

As is so often the case, the late, great George Carlin said it best: "Hey, I'm an American, give me a little violence and I'm a happy guy!"

Cornelia said...

OMG, that is even way worse and more sadist and fascist than the school I went to!! It takes firm and efficient laws against torture or else such bullies and offenders will have their way.

To me, it's just one of the worst examples of patriarchal "therapy". Let me quote a citation from Patricia Evans' "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" on patriarchal "therapy" that I have included in my PHD because I have found it very helpful, liberating, vindicating and enlightening:

"I see that patriarchy – a system of erroneous and dehumanizing beliefs about men and women – still has a tremendous influence in our culture and throughout the world. Therapeutic methods have developed over the past 100 years in the context of …patriarchal and hierarchical assumptions… Many traditional therapists are trained to look for pathology, to view the person as the problem and themselves as experts on the problem (located in the person). Some believe that they have objective knowledge of the person and that what they deem is right for him or her is right, regardless of what the person thinks or feels. Some therapists are directive, believing that they know what you should do or how you should be – but your own insight is far more meaningful than anyone else’s. Directive and pathologizing therapy takes a one-up position. In effect, it says: “I have expert knowledge that you don’t have and therefore I have power over you, so I can confront you, direct you, tell you what to do.” The abuse of power in the “therapeutic” relationship is an outcome of therapy based in reality I (patriarchy, abuse, bullying, domination and power over approach, note by author).
If you are looking for therapeutic support, I suggest that you interview as many therapists as necessary until you find one who feels right for you.
I would reject:
….Therapists who do not have an understanding of patriarchy, power and gender. They will be blind to the abuse…. Therapists who hold the partner in any way responsible for the abuser’s pervasive pattern of abuse. (Their therapeutic orientation would end up abusing the partner.)…Therapists whose therapeutic stance does not open space for new ways being in a respectful, collaborative way…