Cassandra’s Impact on Autistic Victims of Domestic Violence

By abfh; originally posted on the blog Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Much of the criticism surrounding the faux Cassandra disorder invented by Maxine Aston, wherein she claims that being in a romantic relationship with an autistic person causes psychological harm to a non-autistic partner, has focused on the efforts of associated hate groups such as FAAAS to stereotype autistics as violent and unfit for family life. This false portrayal reflects a longstanding prejudice, recently addressed by ASAN President Ari Ne’eman, that people with disabilities are “inherently unfit as spouses or parents.” To the extent this baseless prejudice is given credence by family law judges and social workers, it endangers the basic human right to marry and raise children. I received an e-mail just this morning, discussing the Cassandra scam and the harm caused by disability stereotypes, from a woman who wrote that “until I was 24 I wouldn’t have been allowed to get married in many states in the USA. Why? Because I am epileptic.”

Such stereotypes can be especially dangerous to autistic victims of domestic violence. Like other people with disabilities, many autistic people who are victims of abusive relationships are particularly vulnerable and may have great difficulty escaping from a life-threatening situation. If, because of the bigoted stereotype that the autistic partner is always to blame for family problems, an abused autistic’s cries for help go unanswered, this could result in her death at the hands of her abuser. The feminist disability rights group F.R.I.D.A. points out that domestic violence against women with disabilities is widespread and that much more action needs to be taken to stop it. (For those of my readers who are in Illinois, there will be a F.R.I.D.A. rally at the State Capitol in Springfield on May 22, 2009, from 1:00 to 5:00 PM, addressing the issue of domestic violence against women with disabilities; please consider attending the rally to show your support if you can do so.)

I have reprinted below, with permission, a statement from an autistic woman who wrote of her struggle to escape a violent marriage and how difficult it was for her to explain the abuse to others. Fortunately, she was able to escape safely and to find people to help her. Others in her situation have not been so lucky.

I am having a very hard time explaining why I stayed so long, etc., because NTs do not seem to understand why a person with my apparent intelligence believed so many lies. I know this is a common thing among battered women, but trying to explain how an abuser would manipulate an intelligent woman’s gullibility and social anxiety so well is very hard any time I have to deal with anyone who is not experienced with autistics or battered women in general. He is already using my inability to process information quickly to manipulate the court process by changing potential settlements at the last minute, while we are in court, so that I can’t comprehend them in a meaningful way while I am on a time limit to sign. I have a very good attorney (legal aid turned us down so I had to pay for my own which is going to be very problematic financially since having a very good one is crucial and not cheap). We are very lucky to have one CPS finding against him and irrefutable evidence of infidelity (which is more useful than undocumented testimony about physical abuse, since he is of course lying about the extent of the abuse and trying to take advantage of the fact that the children are too young to go to court).

I am astounded by the lack of information on abuse against autistic partners right now and so saddened by the whole “cassandra” myth. My husband used my quirks as excuses for beating and cheating on me although from his perspective, having a wife who was afraid of conflict, absolutely faithful, very easy to lie to, easy to isolate so that no one else would know about the abuse and report it, and unable to conceal anything (including hidden bank accounts that I tried unsuccessfully to use to get out), was a huge plus. I have a friend who is a former attorney and battered women’s advocate and is trying to help me communicate with my lawyer right now, which has been very difficult so far, but I am still very scared. Thankfully we have already gotten an agreement for no unsupervised visitation but it will still be very hard to endure the rest of the proceedings which may last a year or more.

The thing that gets me is that I know that as typical as I am of women on the spectrum in so many ways, I am sure there are a lot of people in my position who are suffering in silence. I was lucky that there are two staff members at the shelter with autistic family members who have helped advocate for me when the group living situation has become unbearable, but I don’t know how it is in other shelters and suspect many other autistics in similar situations may not be so lucky.

I will have to look for that book next time I am at the library. It was a Gavin De Becker book that finally helped me read the nonverbal signs well enough to recognize the risk and get out quickly the day that I am sure I would have ended up dead or too injured to get the kids out in time. I continue to think the fact that I managed to find homes for the pets, get access to the car (I have never been allowed to have my own), and get the kids out of the house in less than two hours that day was a miracle.

Edit, June 27: Here is a link to a post by chaoticidealism on this topic, Cassandra’s Opposite.