The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is deeply concerned by both the recent case of abuse in Rockville, Maryland and the Washington Post’s reprehensible article calling the abuse of autistic adults the “least bad” decision for families.
For the last six years, the children of Janice and John Land allegedly lived in a locked basement with no furniture, no working lights and only a single blanket on a bare tile floor. Left without access to a bathroom, the twins – now 22-years old – were covered in their own feces and urine. The basement was padlocked and deadbolted from the outside, leaving the children with no means of escape in the event of a fire or other emergency. The parents, who continue to show no remorse and maintain they engaged in no wrongdoing, have been charged with two counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult and two counts of false improvement. ASAN calls on the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
We must also condemn the Washington Post’s July 26th article, “Coping with adult children’s autism, parents may face ‘least bad’ decisions”. The piece, which fails to quote a single autistic person, presents the abuse that the Land twins allegedly suffered as an understandable reaction to the challenges of supporting autistic adult family members. There is no excuse for abuse, even and especially when it is committed by family members against their relatives with disabilities. Each year, ASAN and the broader disability rights community remember the lives of disabled people murdered by their family members and caregivers with National Day of Mourning vigils in over a dozen cities. If not for the intervention of law enforcement, the Land twins could easily have joined the list of lost lives. While much of our work focuses on the expansion of services and supports to people with disabilities across the lifespan, we emphatically reject and condemn any effort to present inadequate service-provision as the cause of or a mitigating factor in the abuse of people with disabilities by their families.
There are systemic issues raised by this case. Neighbors report that police had been contacted about the Lands’ alleged imprisonment of their children several times as far back as three years ago. Police had apparently also visited the Land home on multiple occasions to investigate other criminal complaints. An inquiry should be launched to determine why prior complaints to law enforcement did not trigger earlier action. Montgomery County should explore what mechanisms are necessary to ensure that police and Adult Protective Services investigators respond in a timely and adequate fashion to cases in which adults or children with developmental disabilities face abuse, whether they be in family homes or residential service-provision environments.
People with disabilities deserve the same access to justice and the same freedom from abuse as the non-disabled population. Media narratives that sympathize with those who abuse their children set the stage for future copycat incidents, and make intervention by law enforcement and the broader community less likely. We urge a robust prosecution of John and Janice Land and encourage the Washington Post to review the appropriateness of their recent article justifying the abuse of the Land twins.