PSYCHIATRIC RESIDENCES: ABUSE, MISTREATMENT AND KILLINGS
This text addresses the structural violence that regulates life within many residential centers for people with disabilities or mental fragility. We start from the mistreatment that occurred in the facility Montalto di Fauglia managed by Stella Maris [Foundation] and then we move on to the abuses within the facilities of the Cooperativa Dolce of Bologna, to get to the horrors of the Shalom Community, in the Brescia area. A widespread violence sustained daily by the silence of many "professionals", service technicians, healthcare professionals, social workers and educators.
A new hearing will be held on 3 October 2023 at the Court of Pisa for the mistreatment that occurred in the facility of Montalto di Fauglia, managed by the Stella Maris Foundation. A story buried in silence, which has found within the last year the help and the support of the Antonin Artaud anti-psychiatric organization.
The Technical Consultant called by the prosecutor's office to report on the facts wrote: "Reading the documents of this proceeding we have certainly found mention of a long tradition of abuse and
violence on the part of the healthcare professionals, rooted over the years, and partly tolerated, partly ignored by the management of the structures". And again: “In these situations degenerations develop, in which violence and oppression become the tools used every day, and the institution loses its therapeutic characteristics to become a merely coercive and afflictive place", by referring to "typical" conduct of total institutions". It is reffered of daily physical and verbal abuses and degrading treatments. Pushing, constant slaps, threats and harassment, so obvious as to suggest even worse abuses. A non-episodic but structural violence.
Of the seventeen people involved, the trial currently still sees fifteen technicians and healthcare professionals who have been charged, including the two doctors who managed the facility and the Medical Director of Stella Maris. One healthcare professional negotiated the sentence, while the General Director Roberto Cutajar, who chose the "abbreviated trial procedure", was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months, to be finally acquitted in the appeal process. Among the guests of the facility we remember Mattia, who died in 2018 from suffocation following the sudden closure of the glottis, due to prolonged and excessive administration of psychiatric drugs. The constant therapy changes had brought dysfunctionality and risks at mealtimes, of which the family was never informed. The trial in first instance ended with no responsibility on the part of the doctors and the structure.
We do not believe in the justice of the courts, we know that no sentence will put an end to or affect this violence.
We find the same horror of Montalto di Fauglia, in the killing due to restraint which occurred on the night of August 27th 2012 within the 'Casa Dolce' ['Sweet Home'], structure in Casalecchio di Reno (in the province of Bologna) managed by the 'Cooperativa Sociale Dolce' [Sweet Social Cooperative]. That evening M., 20 years old, would like to continue playing with the playstation, but the internal rules of the structure do not allow it. The healthcare professionals impose themselves. The young man doesn't give up. A power clash opens, that Michael loses, paying with his life.
The prosecutor's investigation focuses on three social and health workers of the cooperative, under investigation for unintentional killing. According to the autopsy, M. died of mechanical asphyxia and suffocation. While two operators held him, a third sat on top of him, at chest level. The trial lasted four years and ended with acquittal for everyone 'because the fact did not constitute a crime'. The legitimacy of the restraint, the correctness of the maneuvers carried out and their correspondence to the "protocols" are supported. The public respectability of the Cooperativa Dolce, of its responsible managers and of the entire structure does not come out damaged, but clean, while nothing within it is called into question.
The testimony we have collected from a fixed-term healthcare professional hired at ' Casa Dolce' ['Sweet Home'] a few years after the killing of M., tells of the continuation of an attitude towards verbal violence and punitive/violent physical confrontation on the part of many healthcare professionals of the residence, accepted by almost the entire structure as 'normal administration'.
Recently, a new investigation involved the 'Cooperativa Dolce' again, regarding another structure in the province of Bologna (Budrio), 'Villa Donini'. We're talking about beatings and insults against disabled people, slaps on the head and humiliation. Twelve social and health workers employed by the cooperative were banned from the profession for a year on charges of mistreatment. Despite the enormity of the facts, a sovereign silence reigns in the area surrounding this affair.
Even what emerged within the Shalom community speaks of the same violence. Systematic abuse, insults, threats, degrading and inhuman punishments, sleep deprivation, isolation and cruelty as a method. A supposed therapeutic community that does not cure people: it mistreats them, humiliates them, uproots them from their humanity. Where 'educators' are often selected without any type of training to give continuity to repressive methods, demeaning and degrading, practices that still characterize the community today.
Over the years the structure has come under fire several times for torture situations that are far from sporadic or accidental episodes. A large organization that prides itself on its supposed unconditional welcome, but which lives on methods that are light years away from offering care and support to boys and girls experiencing periods of fragility. Beyond the beautiful facade that displays at the entrance, Shalom is decay, affliction and misery. Although this story has had a great impact on the media, the sensationalism linked to information marketing has already almost removed what happened and its implications.We do not accept the rhetoric of the "community of horrors" and the "rotten apple", the Shalom community is known and has been active for a long time in the Brescia area and inhuman and degrading treatments as we have seen have not been at all an exception within it, as in many other structures.
Accredited private sector, large cooperatives, foundations; entities that move a lot of money and that often exercise a certain influence in their respective territories: Stella Maris, for example, is considered an excellence at a national level, receives abundant funding and honors from the Tuscany Region, Cooperativa Dolce is a mega cooperative that enjoys wide support and manages many services in the Bologna area, Shalom has always been supported by prominent figures.
These stories bring before everyone's eyes the coercive/degrading devices inherent in this type of structure, where people, reduced to objects, become the target of daily violence and oppression. Places where physical and pharmacological restraint is customary and where bullying is ordinary and structural.
We believe it is important not to turn off the spotlight on such extended, widespread, non-episodic violence, accepted and supported daily by the silence of many "professionals", technicians and healthcare workers, social workers and educators; we would like to start from here, from the silence that supports these abuses, which are not episodes, but more often the practice that regulates these structures.