Image: large electric shock icon (yellow triangle with black bolt of electricity) with a magenta ‘no’ symbol (circle and slash) over it. Smaller AWN logo beside the icon. Text says, #StopTheShock in black. Below it, “Tell the FDA: end all forms of abuse and torture at JRC now!” and #WeAreStillWaiting. Bottom corner says - Graphic design by Erin Human. Copyright © 2019 Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN)

Stop the shocks: New toolkit builds on autistic community’s anti-JRC work

As part of our commitment to advancing social justice for all, AWN applauds all advocacy to stop the shocks and end all forms of abuse and torture at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts. AWN supports the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network’s (ASAN) new toolkit for organizing local action and advocacy against the shocks, out this April. This toolkit will enable many more autistic people and our supporters to keep sending the message that it is wrong to abuse us in the name of treatment, and that the FDA must finalize the ban as it already promised to do.

AWN recognizes the work of many autistic pioneers and leaders in bringing public attention to the
Judge Rotenberg Center’s (JRC) abuses as our community aims to shut it down, especially the tireless work of community members like Emily Titon, Shain Neumeier, Jennifer Msumba, Cal Montgomery, and Anita Cameron – among many, many more.

Emily Titon’s anti-JRC advocacy work for several years with the Autism National Committee, TASH New England, and the TASH Human Rights Committee has kept self-advocate perspectives front and center in spaces that are too often dominated by parent and provider voices. As a self-advocate and organizer, Emily has worked behind the scenes to support Cheryl McCollins, a Black mom who had the courage to speak out publicly against JRC after her son Andre survived torture there.

The scope of Shain Neumeier’s work as a community organizer, advocate, and attorney working to galvanize public attention and shut down JRC is as vast as it is deep. They worked tirelessly to publicize the groundbreaking trial in 2012 after JRC’s horrific video of shocking Andre McCollins went public, and lent their research, labor, and time to the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth as well as ASAN. They testified before the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture about JRC, wrote about JRC in numerous publications, and co-organized multiple protests and demonstrations in Massachusetts and the Washington, D.C. area, helping keep JRC in national and local news media. Without Shain’s groundbreaking work, JRC might not have the same level of visibility it does now in the autistic community worldwide. Now as an attorney, they are representing another survivor, Sarah Villa, and her family, in seeking justice for JRC’s abuse.

Jennifer Msumba is an autistic musician, performer, and YouTuber, who is also the most outspoken survivor of JRC’s abuses, exposing the reality of life at JRC in a series of blogs and vlogs over several years. Her testimony presented at the April 2014 FDA hearing made her one of only two survivors of JRC (the other is Ian Cook) to speak against the shocks during the all-day panel. Jennifer continues to thrive today in defiance of the torture at JRC based on compliance and coercion.

Cal Montgomery and Anita Cameron are among the autistic community’s longtime leaders and visionaries, with roots deep in the self-advocacy and independent living movements long before the rise of the neurodiversity movement. As two of relatively few openly neurodivergent leaders in National ADAPT, Cal and Anita have spoken and written many times of the horrors of JRC and all institutions past and present, taking lead roles in organizing ADAPT’s many actions against JRC in recent years, including marches and sit-ins outside the FDA headquarters, former FDA director Scott Gottlieb’s residence, and the JRC main building. Without their work over many decades, the autistic community today would be very different.

We thank all those who have paved the way before and who continue to do the work now. With all of us working in concert, we will stop the shocks, shut down JRC, and close all institutions – we will not stop until we are all free.

Access ASAN’s toolkit on anti-JRC advocacy here and for their additional toolkit on organizing local actions see here.

To learn more about the history of JRC, access the Living Archive and Repository on the Judge Rotenberg Center’s Abuses here.