The Autistic Self Advocacy Network issued a statement on Friday, September 19th, condemning Dr. Phil for recent segments featuring Kelli Stapleton.
Stapleton is currently standing trial and has pled guilty to the charge of first-degree child abuse for the attempted murder of her autistic daughter, Issy Stapleton, age 14. The Dr. Phil segments are consistent with the broader media coverage in the year since the attempted murder; rather than rallying with sympathy and support for a child victim of attempted filicide, there have been near-constant attempts to excuse and justify her murderer and paint the person who tried to kill her–her own mother–as the “real” victim. But this abhorrent and retraumatizing brand of violence found a new voice and a new vigor on Dr. Phil.
In the segments, K. Stapleton has been granted new means to exploit her victim. Whether this comes in the form of violating her daughter’s privacy by sharing some of her most vulnerable moments with the world; crafting a sensationalized and dehumanizing narrative of her daughter’s life; using this narrative to solicit dubious donations; or committing character assassination by emphasizing her daughter’s “violence” and painting her as monstrous, Dr. Phil offered an abusive and murderous parent a platform, with no regard for the consequences to her victim–or the potential copycat effects.
“We see a pattern of copycat crimes whenever there is a well-publicized case of a parent murdering, or attempting to murder, their disabled child” said Julia Bascom, ASAN’s Director of Programs. “Every time this happens, commenters come out of the woodwork offering every possible excuse, and nothing could be more dangerous. As disabled people, our lives aren’t valued, and we see the consequences in every one of these headlines. Stapleton attempted to kill her daughter one year ago in the wake of an extremely well-publicized and extraordinarily hateful hatchet job about the murder of another autistic teenager, Alex Spourdalakis. Dr. Phil had an opportunity to shut down this cycle of violence, and instead he chose to perpetuate it, as loudly and widely as possible.”
The victim of child abuse is not the adult abuser. The victim of murder is not the murderer. K. Stapleton is not the victim of her attempted filicide, but she has been allowed to re-victimize her target. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network forcefully denounces Dr. Phil for facilitating this violence, and urges the disability community to join us in breaking the cycle of violence and copycat murders we see year in and year out. Join us in sending this message: it is always wrong for a parent to murder their child. There is never a justification. There are always other options. The only victims here are disabled people murdered by those we should have been able to trust the most.
And to Issy Stapleton, the only victim of this tragedy, the only person whose voice deserves to be heard here, we say: what your mother did was not okay, and it wasn’t your fault. There is a whole world of people who support you. We are sorry this happened to you, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure it can never happen to anyone, ever again. You deserve nothing less.