Sunday, March 16, 2008

Don't Help Them-Arrest Them

photo credit-piccadillywilson
creative commons license

If there is anyone left that hasn't read Bev's excellent post "I Am Joe's Functioning Label", I highly encourage you to do so. I think that the phenomenon that she describes, whereby people slap certain labels on others, and then make all sorts of assumptions about them, applies to a story I read.

According to the online version of the Kansas City Star,

The sheriff is recommending charges in the case of a western Kansas woman who sat on her boyfriend’s toilet for so long that her body became stuck to the seat.

Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple said Thursday he asked the county attorney to file charges against Kory McFarren for mistreatment of a dependent adult. The county attorney will decide whether any charges are brought. ...

... McFarren, 36, told the sheriff at that time that Babcock had not left the bathroom in two years, although McFarren now contends he’s unsure how long she was in there. Whipple said Thursday that judging by the woman’s condition — she had open sores on which the toilet seat would stick — it appeared she likely sat on the toilet continually for at least a month.

Now I don't know all of the particulars surrounding the story, and I'm certainly in favor of punishing those who abuse the disabled. But some things in this story don't add up to the typical "caretaker abuses person in their care" scenario.

First of all, the person being charged is described as the woman's boyfriend, not her caretaker.

McFarren said she moved around in the bathroom during that time, bathed and changed into clothes he brought her. He brought food and water to her. They had conversations and an otherwise normal relationship — except it all happened in the bathroom.

But the sheriff disputed that account: “She hadn’t bathed for quite some time, I am safe in saying. She obviously was not keeping herself up.”

McFarren said he finally called police Feb. 27 after he became worried because Babcock was acting groggy, as if she didn’t know what was going on around her. ...

...McFarren, who works at an antique store, said he has been taking care of Babcock for the 16 years they have lived together.

So, they live together for 16 years. Since there's no mention in the story, I'm assuming that this is the first time that the authorities are being called to intervene in this couple's life.

Certainly the girlfriend has problems that need attention. But it sounds like the boyfriend and her had some semblance of a healthy relationship, though extremely odd by conventional standards. And it sounds like when the boyfriend perceived there was really trouble, he called for help.

To make matters worse, it sounds like the sheriff doesn't consider the boyfriend to possess full capacity

“The unfortunate thing is this truly is a case of two people, in my opinion, with diminished mental capacity,” Whipple said.

So why did the sheriff want to press charges?

He (McFarren) insisted that he tried to coax her out of the bathroom every day.

“And her reply would be, ‘Maybe tomorrow,’ ” Whipple said.

OK, so they live together for 16 years without having any obvious problems. Both parties have some issues, and boyfriend exercises some poor judgement in when to seek assistance for his girlfriend (though there is no contention that she wanted any outside help). Since McFarren (the boyfriend) holds down a job, he is assumed to be able to fully make all decisions that not only affect him, but also another adult.

And the sheriff comes in and sees something which he considers too weird, and wants to press charges.

Doesn't the county have any psychiatric social workers?

Addendum-I missed the fact that Casdok had already blogged about this. Please see here for her take on this story.


Casdok said...

I did a post on this couple, so interesting to hear a follow up.

Yes Bev's post certainly was excellent.

David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction) said...

If I were in charge of social services there, I'd be kicking a great number of arses on this issue.

Sounds like a system failure to me.

Club 166 said...

I usually catch all of your posts, but missed that one. Updated and added a link above.

Yes, it seems that in this instance (as in a number of others) legal sanctions are being used to cover up gross failings of the social service sector.


Anonymous said...

Bev's posts are always thought provoking. I read about this story on Casdok's blog. It is hard to comprehend.

abfh said...

When I first saw this story I agreed with your point of view, but after thinking about it some more, I am not sure we should assume that the sheriff just wants to punish the boyfriend. Perhaps the sheriff thinks that putting him on probation would be a good way of making sure that he has someone checking up on him (the probation officer and any counselors he may be ordered to see) and that he gets the services he needs.

It may be literally true that the county doesn't have any psychiatric social workers, or doesn't have enough of them.

Club 166 said...


What does it say about us, if the only mechanism we have to deal with something like this is to press charges against someone?


abfh said...

It means we're still living in very primitive times, I'd say.

Putting people into the criminal justice system to make sure that they get social services is a common practice in today's America, when you think about it; that's what our system does with drug addicts, and homeless people who often are arrested for public intoxication, and so forth.