Juan Mendez, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on torture, is calling for an investigation of the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JREC), a school in Canton, Massachusetts that has the highly dubious distinction of being the “only one in the world” to administer electric shocks on autistic children and others with emotional-behavioral conditions or mental retardation, all in the name of “therapy.”
As reported in the Guardian — whose reporters have witnessed the school in operation — Mendez has started discussions with the US mission to the UN in Geneva about investigating the JREC. Stating that he is “very concerned” about the JREC’s “treatment plan” of giving autistic children electric shocks on their skin via remote-control devices, Mendez said:
The use of electricity on anyone’s body raises the question of whether this is therapeutic or whether it inflicts pain and suffering tantamount to torture in violation of international law.
Mendez himself was subjected to electric shock by Buenos Aires police in 1975, of which he said
I feel very strongly that electricity applied to a person’s body creates a very extreme form of pain. There a lot of lingering consequences including mental illness that can be devastating.
About half of the students at the JREC carry special shock devices 24 hours a day, in backpacks or in packs strapped to their waist.
Disability rights activists have long opposed the horrific “aversive therapy” which is based on a highly outdated and frankly inhumane (and sickening, if you ask me) application of behaviorism. Recently, opposition to the JREC has taken a more public form, with a rally demanding the end of its “aversive therapy” outside the Massachusetts state house earlier today, Saturday, June 2. Afterwards, participants planned to march to the JREC.
Massachusetts senator Brian Joyce spoke at the rally; he is a leading proponent of a bill to ban aversive therapy in the state. The bill has already passed the state Senate and is being considered in the House. According to Joyce, the JREC has been able to stay open while using its controversial therapy “through a combination of secrecy and legal threats, spending $16 million on lawyers’ fees between 2000 and 2010.” In April, a video was released that, for the first time, showed the public the JREC’s horrifying use of electric shock on children.
The school, via its former director, Matthew Israel, claimed that it provided therapy that “worked” for children whose severe behaviors, such as aggression and self-injurious behavior, could not otherwise be treated. Israel stepped down from his position in 2011 after facing criminal charges for a 2007 incident in which two teenagers with disabilities who were residents at the JREC were wrongfully administered a number of shocks after a prank phone call by someone posing as a supervisor ordered them.
As I wrote in an earlier post about the JREC, my teenage autistic son has a history of some of the most challenging behaviors associated with autism including self-injurious ones like head-banging. He has been doing a lot better now thanks in large part to his school and the good work of his teachers.
Laurie Ahern of Disability Rights International, which has long opposed the treatment, describes the JREC’s “therapy” as simply “a horrific form of torture.” Mendez’s predecessor as torture rapporteur, Manfred Nowak, had also called for an investigation of the JREC: We must urge the US Mission to the UN to undertake this investigation and end the use of abusive “therapy” at the JREC.
Sign the petition and tell the US Mission to the UN to investigate the JREC’s use of electric shock on autistic children and children with disabilities!
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